Mystery from the Bronze Age: The Uffington White Horse

Uffington-White-Horse-satOur world is dotted with mysterious structures built by our ancient ancestors. These buildings often remain enigmas, as the people who built them have long since passed into history and, in many cases, didn’t leave written records to explain themselves.

England is no stranger to such odd structures. Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous, but the British Isles are dotted with many ancient stone circles. The ancients who inhabited the area left their mark on the land in many ways, including massive horses carved out of chalk. The strangest of these massive glyphs is the highly stylized Uffington White Horse.


An ancient secret

Wiltshire is home to four white horses, but the Uffington White Horse is the most eye catching. The other three more closely resemble an actual horse, but the Uffington white horse is stylized, and could possibly have been meant to represent something else entirely. However, the hill has been known as “White Horse Hill” since the 11th century. The figure is composed of ten feet wide curving lines, and measures around 365 feet long, twice the length of the rest of the horses in the area.

No one knows exactly why the horse was carved out of the Earth. It could have been meant to mark the territory of a local tribe. Or it could have been the work of a cult devoted to the horse goddess, Rhiannon. Another possible explanation is that the horse could be an homage to the sun god Belinos, who was often depicted on horseback or in a chariot.


Dates, revised

For a long time, archeologists believed that the Uffington White Horse dated to the Iron Age. However, a dating technique developed in the 1990s changed that perception. Optical stimulated luminescence dating (OSL) is used to show how long its been since soil has seen sunlight. The horse was made by digging out soil from the hillside and filling the resulting trench in with chalk. Testing of the underlying soils dates them to between 1200 BC and 800 BC, putting the mystery structure in the Bronze Age. As for any other insights, no more seem to be coming. The White Horse will remain an enigma for years to come.



“The Uffington White Horse.” May 6th, 2014. Wiltshire White Horses. September 18, 2014.