The origins and purpose of the artwork, overlooking the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, have been shrouded in mystery for generations. Now, archaeologists believe they have cracked the dating.
The Cerne Abbas Giant is a chalk figure of an enormous naked man wielding a club carved into the side of a hill in Dorchester, England. The giant is one of a number of presumably ancient hill figures that dot the English countryside, such as the Long Man of Wilmington and the White Horse of Uffington.
The Cerne Abbas giant is uniquely distinctive because of the enormous erect phallus that he sports. The figure is 180 feet (55m) tall and the club he carries is 120 feet (36m) long.
Who is he? Theories have ranged from an ancient spirituality symbol or likeness of Greco-Roman hero Hercules to a caricature of Oliver Cromwell, with the club a reference to Cromwell's repressive rule and the phallus a mockery of his puritanism. Indeed, the prevalent theory has been that the giant was created by local landowners as an insult to Oliver Cromwell, particularly as the first written reference to the giant only dates to 1694
However, new dating mostly rules this out, suggesting it was created between the 7th and 11th century, with the appendage added later as a joke. A very big joke!
Archaeologists working for the National Trust carried out state-of-the-art sediment analysis of the 180ft naked figure brandishing a giant club to determine its age. Britain's largest chalk hill figure, the Cerne Giant, is now believed to have been created in the late Saxon period, but probably had his notable appendage added in the 17th century.
Following the latest analysis of the soil and markings, archaeologists have concluded the giant was probably first constructed in the late Saxon period, between 700 and 1100 AD, and may depict an early Anglo Saxon god known as 'Heil'.
However, making use of Lidar technology to look for no longer visible lines, they found he may originally have been wearing trousers, with evidence the phallus was added later, in the 17th century to turn it into a 'figure of fun'.