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CONFERENCE: White Horses, Badges & Giants: Hill figures of Southern England

Saturday 9 November 2024, 10-5: Devizes Town Hall

Hill figures are large iconic archaeological monuments, principally concentrated in southern England (and on the chalk). Their archaeological study (and appreciation and ancient monuments) is perhaps tardy in comparison with other archaeologist’s sites, and earthwork monuments. Recently, ground-breaking research, fieldwork and analysis on these monuments in Wiltshire has been undertaken by Garry Gibbons and Brian Edwards, and excavations and dating of three of the most famous monuments (Uffington White Horse, Wilmington Long Man, and the Cerne Giant) has revolutionised our understanding. These monuments, although large bold statements in the English countryside, are ‘hidden in plain sight’ and archaeologists have tended not to engage with them as archaeological sites. This Conference, with a wide range of experts, introduce us to hill figure, new research, new results and new ideas and showcases what we now know about hill figures and points new directions for their study

Oxbow Books will be attendance selling books including books relevant to this topic and the newly published A Date of the Two Cerne Giants …

Draft Programme

  • From 9:30 - Arrival and tea / coffee

  • 10:00 - Welcome

  • 10.05 - Garry Gibbons - Wiltshire's Chalk Horses: What's the Problem?

Created, cleaned, recut and lost -- the history of Wiltshire’s equine chalk hill figures spans at least three centuries. Save for two horses dating to the twentieth century most of what is popularly known about the county’s chalk horses first emerged 150 years ago and remains firmly tethered to them today. As Wiltshire’s most prominent class of landscape monument, few chalk horses have been accurately surveyed, their condition recorded, or their relationship to the landscape investigated. This talk aims to demonstrate that the heritage industry has largely overlooked Wiltshire’s chalk horses -- which has clearly impacted these monuments -- and suggests how fresh research can open new directions of ‘thinking’ the county’s nationally unique collection of chalk equine hill figures.

  • 10.45 - Martin Bell and Chris Butler -  The Long Man of Wilmington: date, social context and landscape history 

Changing ideas about the date and social context in which the Long Man was created will be outlined including new tentative hypotheses about a creator. Field investigations have also provided evidence for the ecological history of the figures chalk landscape setting.

  • 11.25 - Tea/coffee

  • 11.50 Ronald Hutton - Hill Figures in the Era of OSL

The relatively new science of OSL has already produced some remarkable results in the dating of ancient monuments, including the nation's two most famous hill figures. The effect in each of the most high-profile cases, however, has been to produce results that mismatch all the other kinds of evidence, to an exciting but also baffling degree. This talk is designed to look more closely at this situation, especially in the case of the Cerne Abbas Giant.

  • 12.30 - David Dawson - Eric Ravilious - White Horses and Hill Figures

David will trace the fascinating story of what was planned to one of the very first Puffin children's books. Ravilious made a lightening tour of Southern England in December 1939, creating some of his best known works that were destined to become illustrations in the book. But the project was never completed and the 'dummy' outline remained lost until acquired by the Wiltshire Museum.

  • 1.00 - Lunch (provided)

  • 2.00 - Mike Allen - The when, how and who of the two (or three) Cerne Giants

The National Trust excavations in 2020 provided the samples for the first dates for the Giants. Subsequent research showed that there were two or three Giants, and that the Giant we see today is essentially a 20th Century manifestation of an earlier form. How does the Cerne Giant fit with other dated hill figures? The new dates allow us to discount many previous wild ideas of his identity and for us to start to suggest other ideas.

  • 2.40 - Brian Edwards - Hide and seek with hill figures

Now you see it - now you don’t. Beckoning those travelling through the landscape, a form of hide-and-seek is inherent in the creation of hill figures. This game is compounded as the seasons lay siege, so nature’s attempts to reclaim turf monuments demands an annual strategy. How much of that hill figure can be seen from ground level viewing points, how much of that hill figure was seen in the past, is the outline the same as what antiquaries saw centuries ago?

  • 3.00 - Tea /coffee

  • 3.25 - David Carson - Maintaining the Alton Barnes White Horse

David Carson has been involved in maintaining the Alton Barnes White Horse for over half a Century. As a child in the 1960’s he participated with the whole village taking part in the re-chalking, in more recent years he has been involved in organising more modern methods, to overcome the problems of working within a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and all the difficulties that entails.

  • 4.00 - Richard Osgood - He toa traumata rau: Wiltshire’s military chalk carvings

The hill figures of Wiltshire have inspired people for millennia – they are also important to people from the other side of the world. Soldiers of the Great War left their carvings on the hillsides to mark their presence and this talk will explore some of these. The talk will include the Codford and Fovant badges, but will major on the Bulford Kiwi – hence the Maori title (which means – Bravery has many resting places).

  • 4.45 - Close

Tickets - Booking Essential: Tickets must be purchased in advance and include lunch and tea/coffee. Please note that for our previous Archaeology Conferences, we have sold all the available tickets.

  • Non-Member - £34.00
  • Member - £28.00
  • Student - £18.00 (with proof of status)

Saturday 9 November; 10.00am to 5pm (lunch included).

Please let us know by 30 October if you have any special dietary requirements or allergies.  Lunch will include vegetarian options.

Terms and Conditions
Unless sold out, bookings will close on 2 November to allow confirmation of catering.  To be added to the waiting list please email

Booking for events
Cancellations, Refunds and T&Cs

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Devizes Town Hall

Close to the Museum, we use the Town Hall Assembly Room for larger talks as it seats up to 150 people. The Assembly Room is on the first floor, but there is level access and a lift.

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