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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cult or Clown? April Fool's Artistry on British Hillside Landmark Just in Time for Breeding Season

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Can you find the white horse on the Google Map? This is an image of the little town in Wiltshire, England where an ancient outline of a white horse is carved in the hillside; it was captured before the enhancement described in this story. If you are new to Google Maps: Use the directional buttons on the map to move around; use the plus/minus symbols to enlarge/reduce your view. Hint: the white horse is just above the edge of the bordered tilled fields, at the upper center of the photo. If you put the mouse arrow over that spec and hit the "plus" symbol, the horse should come into view. Keep trying, you'll get the hang of it! You should also be able to navigate around the image by holding down your mouse button and dragging across the image. The little "pins" in the map indicate Google advertisers. They're everywhere.

Have you always wanted to visit Stonehenge? Think crop circles are more interesting than "American Idol"? Fancy you'd look great in a hooded cape? Then you probably know all about the white horses that dot the remote countryside hillsides of southern England.

Some of the "chalk horses" trace their origins to prehistoric times.

But one has been in the news lately. The hillside horse above Alton Barnes in Wiltshire was enhanced recently when a creative landscape artist added an anatomical detail to the horse.

Motorists on the motorway glanced up and said, "I've been driving down this road for years and never noticed it was a stallion before."

Well, it wasn't a stallion before.

So far, apparently, no one has climbed up there (this is a steep hillside) to find out if the change is merely artistic or if the ground has been excavated down to the chalk. Apparently once in the past, it was temporarily turned into a zebra. And (I would love to see this) on the summer solstice, the entire horse is outlined by candles--placed there by chanting Druids, no doubt.

Here's a Scrabble word for you. The art and science of carving horses into hillsides is known as "leucippotomy". I guess that means that Alton Barnes has a lewd leucippotomist...on the loose.

Thanks to Horse and Hound, the BBC, and a lot of rather strange but helpful cultish web sites for assistance in assembling this post. I found out that Alton Barnes has crop circles, too, and that the chalk horse there is one of the newest; it was carved in 1812.

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