Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Uffington - Horse or Dragon?

White Horse of Uffington satellite image
Of the many chalk horses and figures that decorate Britain's landscape, the White Horse of Uffington stands out as being the most impressive, and is also thought to be the oldest at around 3000 years old. 

Located near to the ancient Ridgeway track and other famous historic sites such as Uffington Castle, Dragon Hill, Wayland's Smithy and The Manger, it has countless stories, speculations and myths attached to it, as it appears to gallop over the hills. Speculations have linked characters such as St George, Arthur and King Alfred the Great with the figure at different times in our history.

Iron Age Coin ©David Nash
Iron Age Coin
©David Nash Publishing 2003.
Reproduced with kind permission
The figure is highly stylised and many have debated as to whether it is actually a horse, or whether a dragon or some other creature? However, the design has many similarities with early Celtic Artwork, and also stylised horse designs on Iron Age Coins from different British Tribes, leading early researchers to speculate a link with the local Belgae Tribe and suggest an Iron Age origin.

The Celts had great reverence for horses within their culture, with the worship of the horse Goddess Epona quite widespread throughout the Celtic world.

Iron Age Horses ©David Nash
Iron Age Horses
©David Nash Publishing 2003.
Reproduced with kind permission
We do know that it has been referred to as a horse since at least medieval times when there are references to 'White Horse Hill.'

Much of the dating speculation has ended in more recent times after a new technique that can date the length of time that soil has been hidden from sunlight was developed. This dated the Uffington White Horse to between 1400 and 600 BC, placing it firmly in the late Bronze-Age. It is still possible that it was a totemic/tribal symbol of a horse, placed to mark territory or to impress. 

We know so little about pre-Roman Britain that it is unlikely that we will ever know for certain if the White Horse of Uffington was indeed first designed as a horse, a dragon , or some other mythic creature, although a horse does, indeed, seem the most likely.

If you want to read more on the history of the Uffington White Horse, see David Nash Ford's informative website on Berkshire History.

There's also more information and publications available at The Museum, Uffington.

Uffington Horse wood carving
Uffington wood carving by bod
My love of the imagery of the Uffington White Horse stems not only from the history and speculation that it has generated over the years, but principally from the ancient beauty of its enigmatic, wild and mysterious form.

Whoever created this figure long ago, and for whatever purpose, its symbolic beauty and power connects to some other part of us, catching our imaginations and enriching our souls with a sense of something 'other.'
Uffington Horse sculpted metal wall plaque
Uffington sculpted metal and oak wall plaque by bod

I have long wanted to create a piece of artwork based on the White Horse and initially imagined a raised relief carving in burr elm, or something similar. In the end, the first piece I made was the sculpted metal wall plaque, and then the carved basswood/lime plaque. I have been really pleased with the results, and have gone on to also recreate Celtic/Iron Age horses in our range of Celtic Coin plaques, (of which I will be creating more designs soon....)


Uffington sculpted metal and oak wall plaque
Uffington sculpted metal and oak wall plaque

I hope you, like me, love the mystery and majesty of this totemic symbol, and its ancient and universal power to move and inspire.


Thanks for reading!

bod

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  You might also be interested in:

 bod's works  - links to articles about each of bod's pieces
 

The Palace of an Iron Age Queen, or the Stronghold of a Rebel? -The Fascinating site of Stanwick Camp

   
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2 comments:

  1. It's not a horse or a dragon - it's a cat. Whiskers and everything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely some very cat-like features Sheena ☺

      Delete