Laura (tavella) wrote,

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.
Tags: history
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