2 Date

There are as yet no radiocarbon dates from hill figures. Excavation has produced limited artefactual dating evidence, as at The Long Man of Wilmington hill figure in Sussex, where possible Roman fired clay fragments were produced. eighteenth and nineteenth centuries hill figures have been dated by documentary evidence. Letters have been discovered which date the first cutting of the white horse near Litlington, East Sussex to 1836 by James Pagden, a farmer and his brothers. A terminus ante quem for some hill figures is provided by the first documentary evidence recognising their existence. In this way the Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset, is dated prior to the mid 18th century and the Uffington horse, Berkshire to before the 17th century, when an obligation to scour the horse of weeds was first placed on the tenants of the neighbouring manors. Although this obligation was first recorded in the 17th century it may date from the 9th/10th century laying out of the open fields. Dating is therefore often insecure, particularly where a monument has been altered several times. Overall the currency of the tradition probably extends from the Iron Age to the present day, a total duration of perhaps two millenia.

Attempts have been made to date hill figures typologically by their relation to figures on other materials, for example coins, and by association with nearby monuments. It was for this reason that many hill figures were initially ascribed a Bronze Age date as they often occur near barrows, or an Iron Age date because of finds of Iron Age coins nearby.

Many such monuments have been used up to the present day as places of worship/ ritual activity. The Long Man of Wilmington, Sussex was restored in 1874 when the outline of the figure was built in brick, and then in 1969 this was replaced by concrete blocks. It has been suggested that the left leg and foot were turned around in the 1874 restoration and other details altered. The White Horse of Litlington, Sussex, was changed as recently as 1983, when in attempt to prevent erosion and to give greater definition to the legs the foreleg was raised.

There is no evidence for early phases of the tradition but more recent trends can be seen as at the White Horse near Litlington which was first cut in 1836 and recut in 1924 and for which records and drawings survive.

Folklore often surrounds hillfigures and has played some part in the dating of hill figures, though it is not possible to assess with what success as the pre 1700 hill figures are insecurely dated anyway.