Visible as a horse only from the air, just who was this chalk figure intended to impress?
The oldest chalkland engraving in the British Isles, the White Horse at Uffington dates from the Bronze Age and was first etched into the landscape between 1200 and 700 BC. Measuring 110 m by 38.5 m it is also the longest in the country. It was made by digging curved trenches into the chalk hillside, and then filling the trenches with white chalk rubble.
The charismatic white form is visible from a distance of up to 30 km away, and can be easily seen from nearby Dragon Hill and the Didcot to Swindon railway line. Its animal shape is commonly thought to represent a horse.
Ritual or religion?
There are numerous hill figures across England, mostly carved into chalk. We are not sure why they were created. The White Horse at Uffington may have had a ritual or religious purpose. Alternatively it could perhaps be a tribal totem marking a land boundary for members of the cult of the horse-goddess Epona, worshipped in ancient times by the Celts.
Alternatively, followers of the sun god Belinos could have positioned the horse on the top of the hill in order for it to be close to their god. In local lore, the nearby steep-sided valley known as ‘The Manger’ is said to be where the horse feeds by moonlight.
The White Horse at Uffington has been protected continuously for three thousand years by local people, proud of their heritage. They clean and scour it, even today, every seven years. But recently, pro-hunt campaigners defaced the site, adding three white hounds and a rider to the horse.
Although an act of archaeological vandalism, it reflects the continued power of this highly visible symbol in the British landscape.