1 Definition

A hill figure is a large scale visual representation of some kind of symbol or design or motif, often in human or animal form, which has been created by cutting away turf and subsoil on a suitably steep hillslope so that the underlying bedrock is visible as a contrast to the surrounding turf. They are usually more easy to see from some distance away.

Some examples are obvious white figures in chalk or limestone which have been kept scoured and have not become overgrown. Those that are not kept clean may be recognised either as slight indentations from close up or in outline from a distance when there is a small quantity of snow on the ground or in dry periods when they occur as "soil marks". They vary in size up to 60m tall.

Hillfigures are unlikely to be confused with any other category of monument, as they are quite distinctive. Fungus rings and natural features may complicate the recognition of the hillfigure if not lead to its misidentification.

They are often interpreted as religious and ritual symbols, representing gods, or as places for fertility rites. More recently hill figures have been carved for public enjoyment, for example the Whipsnade lion, or as memorials such as the emblems on the Berkshire Downs. They therefore vary considerably in date from the Iron Age to the 20th century. A figure of an aeroplane was cut in the hills at Dover in 1909 to commemorate the first cross- channel flight by Blerot.