Archaeologists restore profile of 3000-year-old Uffington White Horse chalk figure in Oxfordshire

The White Horse at Uffington, Oxfordshire, showing a before (left) and after restoration view (right). Credit: ITV News Meridian

Archaeologists have given Britain’s oldest chalk figure a facelift, with work to restore the head and neck profile of the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire.

Archaeological work last year, including examination of previous surveys, showed that parts of the ancient chalk horse carved into the hillside have narrowed over time.

Grass has encroached and topsoil had slipped, making the head and neck area of the 3,000-year-old figure less than half its typical width.

Now archaeologists from the National Trust and Oxford Archaeology have returned the 364ft (111m) long horse, which dates from the Bronze Age, to its typical profile.

The team cut the turf back to the estimated original edge and re-distributed some of the top layer of chalk on the figure.

The head and neck of the White Horse at Uffington, Oxfordshire, showing a before (left) and after restoration view (right).. Credit: PA

National Trust archaeologist Adrian Cox said: “The Uffington White Horse is set in a dramatic landscape, shaped by nature and by people through time.

“It is a hugely important chalk figure, partly because it is the oldest scientifically dated example in Britain, dating back to the late Bronze Age.

“It is also an intriguing figure, as we don’t know for certain its original purpose. It could have been a way of marking territory or as a tribal symbol.

“What we do know is that through the efforts of generations of local people, the horse has been cared for, allowing it to survive for thousands of years to become an iconic feature of this landscape.”

Oxford Archaeology project manager Mark Dodd said it was a huge privilege to work on such an “iconic landmark”.

“Now the hard work is done, and we can see elements of the monument restored to its former glory, we will be eagerly awaiting the results of research to see what new information this will bring to light,” he said.

Old chalk was removed from the body of the horse and moved up to the top of the hill as part of the widening of the White Horse. Credit: PA

English Heritage senior properties curator Win Scutt said: “As a Scheduled Monument, the Uffington White Horse is under the guardianship of English Heritage.

“We’re delighted that work is being done to better understand this iconic place while it’s returned to its former shape and size.”

During the work, soil samples from the lowest layers of the figure have also been taken to see if they can be used to accurately date its creation.

Previous samples taken in the 1990s revealed the horse to be Britain’s oldest chalk figure, but techniques to date archaeological remains have improved so there is an opportunity to refine the date further, the team said.

They are using “optically stimulated luminescence” (OSL) dating – which analyses crystalline materials such as quartz or feldspar to determine the last time they were exposed to sunlight – and results are expected later this year.

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