Cerne Abbas giant may have held severed head: Oliver Gillie reports on parts of an ancient chalk figure that other archaeologists have been unable to reach

THE CERNE ABBAS giant, a naked relic of ancient British heritage, may once have worn a cloak over his shoulder and carried a severed head in his left hand. New studies of the soil around the giant have found disturbances which suggest that the figure has changed considerably since it was cut into the chalk of a Dorset hillside about 2,000 years ago.

Rodney Castleden, an independent archaeologist who is head of humanities at Roedean School, near Brighton, has spent two years studying the figure. With the help of the physics teacher, Michael Ertl, he built an electrical apparatus similar to that used by the police to search for bodies.

'The apparatus measures electrical resistance of the soil. A high resistance shows that the soil has been disturbed,' Mr Castleden said. 'The readings have been consistent from year to year and show a lot of disturbance under the giant's left arm. The lines I have found could represent a cloak or animal skin which was a common feature of figures that have survived from this period.'

It is known from Roman sources that the ancient Britons generally went into battle naked. This is probably because they normally wore only a blanket, carried over the shoulder like the Scots' plaid, and this would encumber them in battle.

Evidence of soil disturbance suggests that the figure may have had additional features which have been lost. A small knoll, some 40cms high, under the left hand could once have been a representation of a severed head, Mr Castleden believes.

'A severed head would fit with an Iron Age god, a guardian of the tribe returning from battle with the head of an enemy. The figure is in the centre of territory once occupied by a tribe called the Durotriges, an area which is roughly equivalent to present day Dorset. There is an ancient holy well near by. The Celts were keen on sacred springs and so it is an obvious place to create an image of a guardian God,' he said.

There are many examples from the Romano-British period of naked warriors carrying a club and a severed head, including a coin minted in the days of King Cymbeline.

Mr Castleden's studies have not only raised new questions about the giant, they have also settled some old controversies. During Victorian times the giant's penis became discreetly veiled by the natural growth of shrubbery. Scholars believe that when the penis was subsequently re-excavated it was extended by some two and a half metres. This has now been confirmed.

'Originally the giant had a navel but it became incorporated into the phallus when the figure was recut. I have made a trial run down the phallus and obtained electrical measurements indicating a join,' Mr Castleden said. 'The phallus is probably not part of a fertility cult as some scholars have suggested. Figures were often depicted in this period with an erect phallus and it was probably seen more as a sign indicating good luck or prosperity.'

According to another theory the giant was accompanied by a Scotch terrier running beneath the club arm. However Mr Castleden has found no soil disturbance and concludes that the terrier never existed. But there are some signs of disturbance around the head which could be the remains of a helmet or of horns, a common feature of contemporary warrior figures.

Mr Castleden is meeting with the National Trust, which owns the site, and the county archaeologist in August to consider whether they might undertake a small excavation of the site. The trust will then have to consider the delicate question of whether to restore the penis to its proper length and whether or not to cut back the turf to reveal the cloak and any other items that are confirmed by excavation.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice