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26 March 2009 @ 09:54 am
ancient of days  
While wandering the net in search of something else, I came across a mention of the Uffington White Horse, and ended up poking around for ages, as you do. I had not realize that they had a solid date for it now. *3000* years old. All the other hill figures are but shadows of that; many of them are good stories in their own -- the Cerne Abbas giant was most probably a local landowner throwing the finger at Oliver Cromwell -- but no more than a few hundred years old.

The fascinating bit, though, is that turf figures are evanescent. In the absence of human care and renewal, they quickly disappear. Give them fifty years and they are overgrown, a hundred and you wouldn't know they were ever there. The Uffington horse is built more solidly than some, the natural chalk reinforced with trenches filled with chalk blocks, but the turf will cover that just the same.

So somehow, through 3000 years, through huge change, the rise of iron technology, through the Roman invasion, through the coming of Christianity, through the apocalypse of Roman Britain, through the Anglo-Saxon invasion, feudalism, plague, Normans, enclosures, somehow the local population retained a tradition of recutting the turf every few years. Never letting it fall out of memory. And it's not a small task -- it's not only the oldest but the largest of the chalk horses.

Nearly every "ancient tradition" and "handed down from our ancestors" like this isn't true; morris dancing isn't an ancient survival of fertility rituals, it's a medieval imitation of 'moresque' dance, and so on. But the Uffington White Horse really is what it is; a continuous cultural survival through three thousand years of history. I can think of very few equals.
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Tripspace_parasite on March 26th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
It probably helps to have a huge visible reminder of what needs doing. :)
Lauratavella on March 26th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
When has that ever stopped humans from slacking, though?
Flitterbyflit on March 26th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
I kind of wonder if any of it HAS drifted over the centuries. I saw a show a long time ago about how they excavated a Chalk Man and found that he had a few parts that had been gradually worn off over the years; I think they decided that it was a lion skin and club so that he probably started out as a figure of Hercules!

But yes, talk about your tradition.
Lauratavella on March 26th, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
Apparently not; they've done archaeological work and current one maps very closely to the trenches of the original. The jaw used to be a little longer and the body has shifted a meter or so, but it's nearly exactly what its bronze age creators saw.