Confirmed: Cerne Abbas Giant is medieval

The evidence of the microscopic snail shells has been confirmed: the Cerne Abbas Giant dates to the Middle Ages. National Trust researchers used Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) to analyze soil samples taken from the deepest sediment layer of the chalk. OSL can determine when minerals were last exposed to sunlight, and the soil in the earliest archaeological layer of the Cerne Abbas Giant last saw the sun between 700 and 1100 A.D.

National Trust senior archaeologist Martin Papworth said: “The archaeology on the hillside was surprisingly deep – people have been re-chalking the giant over a long period of time. The deepest sample from his elbows and feet tells us he could not have been made before 700AD, ruling out theories that he is of prehistoric or Roman origin.

“This probable Saxon date places him in a dramatic part of Cerne history. Nearby Cerne Abbey was founded in 987AD and some sources think the abbey was set up to convert the locals from the worship of an early Anglo Saxon god known as ‘Heil’ or ‘Helith’. The early part of our date range does invite the question, was the giant originally a depiction of that god?”


There are still knotty problems that need unraveling. Some of the soil samples returned dates up to 1560, but the earliest surviving written account documenting its existence is from 1694, and it defies comprehension that the carving of a naked man 180 feet tall with a 30-foot erection into the side of a hill would go unremarked. For that matter, wouldn’t Cerne Abbe have had a bone (lol) to pick with the choice of subject matter?

Martin’s working theory is that the giant may have been a medieval creation but then – for reasons we may never know – was neglected for several hundred years, before being rediscovered.

“I wonder whether he was created very early on, perhaps in the late Saxon period, but then became grassed over and was forgotten. But at some stage, in low sunlight, people saw that figure on the hill and decided to re-cut him again. That would explain why he doesn’t appear in the abbey records or in Tudor surveys.”

This is consistent with Mike Allen’s research, which found that microscopic snails in the sediment samples included species that were introduced into Britain in the medieval period. The archaeological fieldwork and scientific study, however, found no archaeological evidence that the giant was deliberately covered over.