Investigations by archaeologists from the National Trust and Oxford Archaeology discovered that the important White Horse chalk figure at Uffington, Oxfordshire, has shrunk over time.
In particular, the White Horse’s head and neck are skinnier than they were in the 1980s.
From an examination of past surveys, archaeologists suspected that this was the case and the new piece of research was designed to test whether the dimensions of parts of the chalk figure have changed in recent decades and by how much.
A series of small archaeological trenches, removing only the turf, were dug during the National Trust’s annual scouring and re-chalking of the horse.
National Trust Archaeologist Adrian Cox said: “The investigations produced a very useful set of results.
“The Uffington White Horse is set in a dramatic landscape, shaped by nature and by people through time, and this is a hugely important chalk figure, partly because it is the oldest scientifically-dated example in Britain, dating back to the late Bronze Age.
“Through the efforts of generations of local people, it has been cared for and has survived as an iconic feature of this amazing landscape.
“While it has been maintained in a similar form for centuries, we suspected there had been a gradual reduction since the 1980s in the width of certain features, such as the horse’s head and neck.
“The results of our new research show that this is indeed the case. The turf has been replaced and we will now draw up plans to carefully reverse the recent shrinkage and restore its original outline, all under close archaeological supervision.”
The archaeological work ran in parallel with the National Trust’s annual scouring of the horse, and volunteers braved a variety of weather conditions to carry out this important work, while having a lot of fun in the process.
Adrian said: “Carrying out this archaeological work gave us a great opportunity to talk with local people and visitors alike about the significance of White Horse Hill, and I loved chatting about the archaeology. Thank you to everyone who came to see the archaeology in action.”
There’s another opportunity to get hands on with the age old tradition of chalking the horse on 27 and 28 August. This week volunteers scoured the White Horse of weeds and moss, ready for the re-chalking.
Protective gloves and a hammer will be provided for volunteers to pound the chalk into the outline of the horse in this satisfying family activity. There’s no need to book; just turn up.