Most people are familiar with Stonehenge. The prehistoric British arrangement of huge slabs has stood for millennia and draws visitors from all across the world. Less known is the 3,000 year old masonry work merely an hour and a half away by car: the Uffington White Horse.
Much like Stonehenge, there is speculation, but no certainty, as to the reason for its creation. It is about 350 feet long and carved into the hill; the speculation is that most of the original work was done using antlers as tools.
The white coloration is provided by chalk, which is ground and mixed with water; the paste is then rubbed into the image. The action, called “scouring”, is performed by volunteers from local communities and overseen by rangers from the National Trust, the group responsible for Britain’s landmarks.
Smithsonian describes one scouring day:
National Trust ranger Andy Foley hands out hammers. “It must have happened in this way since it was put on the hillside,” he says. “If people didn’t look after it the horse would be gone within 20 to 30 years; overgrown and eroded. We’re following in the footsteps of the ancients, doing exactly what they did 3,000 years ago.”
The horse had been thought to be almost 2,000 years old, but a carefully monitored excavation in the 1990s demonstrated that the carving went as deep as a meter in some locations. While the top layer of chalk was regularly replaced and therefore gave no clue as to the age of the art, the deeper location could be verified, and proved to be a millennia older than expected.
England has a number of other hill carvings, probably influenced by the White Horse. Most of them are a hundred or two years old. None approach the age of the Uffington image, visible from a distance of twenty miles and with a completely uncertain origin. With its regular maintenance requirements, it is one of the world’s greatest testaments to art restoration.
Question of the night: Have you ever ridden a horse?