Chalking Day
July 7, 2017 11:29 AM   Subscribe

From the start the horse would have required regular upkeep to stay visible. It might seem strange that the horse’s creators chose such an unstable form for their monument, but archaeologists believe this could have been intentional. A chalk hill figure requires a social group to maintain it, and it could be that today’s cleaning is an echo of an early ritual gathering that was part of the horse’s original function.
posted by mama casserole (24 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Mrs. musofire and I visited it last summer. As the article notes, you cannot see the entire horse from anywhere on the hill it's on. As far as we could tell, it is only fully visible from the sky. Nice to know you can see it from the village below.
posted by musofire at 11:43 AM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, the Uffington White Horse! I love it so much. All the other existing hill figures are, despite mythology around them, fairly recent (to the extent you can call anything up to 500 or so years old 'recent'), mostly nostalgic recreations of a supposed mythic past. There were older figures referred to in surviving documents, but they've all been lost to overgrowth long ago as festivals and horse fairs attached to them died out.

But the White Horse, it is exactly what the mythology says it should be. It's seen the rise of iron, it saw the Romans come and go, it's seen the Anglo-Saxon invasion, it's seen old religions die and new ones arrive, and somehow through all that a strand of shared culture survived. For three thousand years, people have gone up into the hills and scoured the chalk.
posted by tavella at 11:44 AM on July 7, 2017 [33 favorites]

Fascinating! It never would have occurred to me that it needed upkeep. Though I can no longer think of chalk horses without thinking of Paul Cornell's intense, creepy novel Chalk (the chalk horse there was the Westbury White Horse).
posted by Fish Sauce at 11:44 AM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

... such an unstable form ...

I see what you did there
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

That's a neat thing to read about. Thank you.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:56 AM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

I too thought that these were dug into soil onto a chalk bedrock, not that the chalk needed to be reapplied every year. That just makes them even cooler. I had always thought they were just like the Nazca lines in permanence.
posted by Hactar at 12:19 PM on July 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

What a surprising, wonderful story!
posted by growabrain at 12:32 PM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

That's the standard way to make them, Hactar, cutting away the turf over the chalk. But in the case of Uffington, they not only dug down to the chalk, they also filled the resulting trenches with blocks of chalk.

Scouring doesn't always mean the addition of new chalk, it can just mean cleaning away dirt that has accumulated and grass that is trying to grow over it. Without it, a figure will be obscured within fifty years and invisible within a hundred.
posted by tavella at 12:50 PM on July 7, 2017 [7 favorites]

So it's the Horse of the Long Now.
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:04 PM on July 7, 2017 [13 favorites]

So it's the Horse of the Long Now.

See also Tiffany Aching in Wintersmith.
posted by mikelieman at 1:18 PM on July 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Cursory Googling doesn't get me anything from Elinor Ostrom on the Uffington Horse, although long-term cooperative work on an aesthetic or symbolic earthwork doesn't seem *too* far from long-term cooperative work on agricultural earthworks. Practice, even.

Then I wondered, when horses arrived in England? As prey, since Doggerland was open. But "The domestication of horses, and their use to pull vehicles, had begun in Britain by 2500 BC".
posted by clew at 1:23 PM on July 7, 2017

Allegedly i was conceived here. #tmi
posted by KateViolet at 2:04 PM on July 7, 2017 [23 favorites]

I visited Nazca a few years back.
What struck me the most was not how somebody could do this, a few smart people with lots of rope and sticks and a largeish not-so-smart workforce could make it work, but rather why would they?
posted by signal at 2:05 PM on July 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

It shows up nicely on a google map
posted by Lanark at 2:14 PM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's near Swindon, an English settlement.
posted by davebush at 2:18 PM on July 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Taint what a horse looks like, it's what a horse be.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:24 PM on July 7, 2017 [13 favorites]

Nobody knows for certain why the horse was made. “It’s a beautiful shape, very elegant,” says Miles.
Asked and answered, I'd say.
posted by fredludd at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have a tattoo of the White Horse on my shoulder, and I sometimes ask people what they think it is. I get answers ranging from "horse" to "cat" to "dragon". All part of what I love about it. I visited it when I was a kid, and it make enough of an impact on me that I had it inked on my skin.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2017 [14 favorites]

Best of the web! I've always wanted to go, now I must.
posted by mumimor at 12:57 AM on July 8, 2017

Also , 3000 years of continuous care for a weird monument seems extremely British to me. Maybe I'm wrong
posted by mumimor at 12:58 AM on July 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is the best Uffington post.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:39 AM on July 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I wonder if they also do the bare chalk patch on Dragon Hill next to the Uffington horse. Since legend says is remains bare due to the spilled blood of the dragon that St George slayed, it might be seen as cheating.

[I grew up around that way and it used to be pleasant way to have something to do to take a bike ride out to the horse. It is lovely to see the pictures. Thanks for posting, mama casserole.]
posted by drnick at 5:30 PM on July 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hee, I'm in several of those pictures and my bff I was with is quoted in the article! I feel famous :D

We were there for two hours and it was really a huge amount of fun.
posted by Cheerwell Maker at 1:24 PM on July 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

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