Sep. 16th, 2012

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And now, at last, I can present to you some photos of that most curious and enigmatic of prehistoric monuments: The Uffington White Horse!!

Which as monuments go isn't very photogenic, I'm afraid, unless you're in an aeroplace/helicopter/hot air balloon or UFO...

This is a very peculiar monument because, like the Nazca lines in Peru, it just doesn't seem to work on the ground.  I tried very hard to find a spot in the landscape where it looks imposing, emphatic and meaningful, but such a place eluded me.  It really seems to work best when you see it from the air...

Now recent research on the Nazca lines suggests that these figures were designed on such a vast scale so people could process along them, but this logic just doesn't seem to work for the Uffington White Horse. Firstly, it's too small, and secondly, its outline just doesn't seem to work that way.

The horse has been identified as a dog by some, but I'm unconvinced.  I'm going to throw my hat in with the horse theory, perhaps because I'm a horse-lover, and I WANT it to be a horse!  For years it was assumed to be Iron Age, but during recent restoration works, the lowest chalk surface was dated using some state of the art dating technique (I can't for the life of me remember the specifics, but it wasn't anything bog-standard like RC dating...) and it turns out that our equine (or canine?) friend goes right back to the Late Bronze Age.

That still doesn't help explain why it's here. It's been interpreted as a tribal emblem, but perhaps its odd location means that it wasn't primarily intended for the human eye.  Perhaps it was the making of the horse that was important, with the aim being to impress onlookers who 'resided' in the sky.  By this I am NOT referring to visiting aliens - what I envisage instead is that it was created for the eyes of gods, or even ancestors, who resided above as opposed to within the earth.  Perhaps the regular recutting of this horse was an integral part of its function: like other kinds of 'communal' monuments, such as the chambered tombs, henges and causewayed enclosures of the much-earlier Neolthic period, it was the making and the repeated maintenance of the monument which was key to its role in the landscape.

Here's a view of the horse from just above its head:-


It's a jolly-looking thing, which has evidently lost a bit of weight through the millenia. Prior to our visit, I was told by our hostess that if I stood on the eye and made a wish, it would come true.  Now, there's a plaintive notice located near the horse which asks visitors to respect the monument by NOT stepping on it, so being an individual who loves and respects the past in all its varied aspects, I decided that I wouldn't jump ignorantly all over the poor thing and ask it to grant me anything so banal as long life, endless good literary reviews and a best-selling first novel or whatever.

Instead, I just stepped back and wished fervently that it could still be here to enthrall and captivate its visitors for at least another three thousand years... 

Here's another view from the so-called 'Dragon's Mound', an odd little scarped tump in the landscape which has the character of a mini-Silbury Hill.  Now, if I was a Late Bronze Age person carrying out rituals of fertility, horse sacrifice or whatever (your guess is probably as good as mine!) this is the spot where I'd want to be able to stand and look upon an excellent view of the horse, because that way anyone watching me would know that I was the one in cahoots with the gods/ancestors, and therefore running the show.

But it's not a good view.  It's a really hopeless view, in fact:-


So our horse/dog remains an enigma, which is quite appropriate, considering that it bears a smile which in my view outperforms the Mona Lisa's.  It most certainly knows what's going on (though who's to say that its meaning remained constant??) but it sure as hell ain't telling. 

And if you ask me, that's a big part of its appeal: like the hoards of metalwork that litter our landscape, it just serves to remind us that the Late Bronze Age is most definitely a foreign country. They do things very differently there...

P.S.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the real thing, here's a link. Click upon it, and dare to tell me that you're not impressed!!


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