Archaeologist theorised ‘most plausible argument’ for UK’s mystery Long Man of Wilmington

Landscape Mysteries: Old episode explores Long Man of Wilmington

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The ever-elusive Long Man of Wilmington was last month given a makeover. Standing at 235 feet, the giant chalk figure had a mask painted over its face in a nod to the coronavirus pandemic currently gripping the country. Although, the mask was not added by the authorities, as Sussex Police confirmed that the protected archaeological site had been defaced by vandals.

Sergeant Tom Carter said that while it “may have been perpetrated for humour…the actions that have been taken are unacceptable”.

The figure was formerly thought to have originated from the Iron Age.

Other researchers even claimed its roots go back as far as the Neolithic period, which began around 12,000 years ago.

In 2003, however, an archaeological investigation revealed that the Long Man may, in fact, have his roots in the Early Modern era.

This would mean that people in the 16th or 17th century could well have carved out the figure in chalk, making it just hundreds of years old as opposed to thousands of years.

The groundbreaking work was carried out by Professor Martin Bell of the University of Reading, and chronicled during the BBC’s ‘Landscape Mysteries’.

As the researcher at the time explained: “Many different dates have been suggested in the past for the long men.

“Some people have favoured a Neolithic date, a Roman date has also been suggested.

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“But actually, the most plausible argument I think is really an Anglo-Saxon date because there’s a buckle that was recognised as having a very similar figure.

“That belt buckle dates to the 7th century.

“But others have suggested much more recent dates.”

The spread of possibilities covers an enormous time span.


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It shows how little has been known about the multiple figures found scattered across the chalk hills.

Further research conducted by Professor Bell could well have refuted his original Anglo-Saxon theory.

His team found that the slope which the Long Man was cut into had gone through a period of frailty in the Early Modern era.

This led the researchers to believe that the figure was, therefore, cut in that period.

It opened up the possibility that it could be a Tudor or Stuart-era political satire.

Or, possibly, a religious image linked to the Reformation.

Professor Ronald Hutton, in 2004, told the Council for British Archaeology: “We can at least celebrate the fact that we have our first, apparently unequivocally, Early Modern hill figure, and historians now have to reckon with it.”

Meanwhile, the carving’s most recent defacing is one in a string of vandalism.

In 2015, anti-frackers protestors placed a slogan with the words “Frack Off” above it.

It was removed shortly after.

The protest was in response to the shale energy company Celtique Energie announced it would not appeal against a decision to refuse planning permission to explore for oil and gas at two sites in the South Downs National Park.

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