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'White Horses' in limestone (England) 

A special use of limestone can be found in the south of England in Great Britain. There we find on steep slopes with limestone near the surface (just below the vegetation) the so-called hill figures or chalk figures. These are huge white human and animal figures. The best way to observe them is from some distance. 

The hill figures were made by removing the grass and topsoil. So the underlying rock (white limestone) surfaced in the trenches. We find the phenomenon of the hill figures especially in England. Where the underlying rock doesn’t consist of white limestone or where the limestone isn’t near the surface, the hill figures were also made by covering the topsoil with chunks of white limestone. 

Uffington White Horse
Image 1. The Uffington White Horse. From the air it’s much better to see.

As human figures we know the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Long Man of Wilmington. The animal figures are mainly horses. Examples are the Uffington White Horse, the Hackpen White Horse and the Marlborough White Horse. The Uffington White Horse is of prehistoric age (iron age or bronze age). The major part of the other white horses are probably not older than 400 years. The most of them originate from the 18th or 19th century. Sometimes a white horse is very recent. An example of this is the Devizes White Horse. This horse was made for the millennium celebration of the year 2000. 

Cerne Abbas Giant
Image 2. Above: Cerne Abbas Giant. Below: Hackpen White Horse.

Also for the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Long Man of Wilmington no earlier dating than the 16th or the 17th century are possible. The Cerne Abbas Giant has a height of 55 meters and he is 51 meters wide. In his right hand he holds a club of 37 meters length. He is made by digging trenches of about 30 cm wide and deep. The Long Man of Wilmington is 69 meters high. He is holding two sticks. To keep the hill figures visible regular maintenance is necessary. Without this maintenance the vegetation will overgrow them and rain can wash earth over the white surface. Rain can also wash away the limestone chunks.  

Text and pictures: Jan Weertz

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