Long Man of Wilmington

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This hill figure on the Sussex Downs shows a naked standing man, grasping two poles taller than himself. Originally formed by cutting turf away to expose the white chalk, it became so overgrown as to be almost lost, and was restored in 1874. The earliest record is a sketch made in 1710; this differs from the present figure in the placing of the feet, and in showing vague facial features, and possibly a hat (Farrant, 1993). Its actual age is unknown; one plausible theory compares it to figures of helmeted, spear-carrying warriors (often naked) on Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian helmets and buckles, implying a link with the cult of a war-god (Hawkes, 1965). In 1874, and again in 1969, splinters of Roman tiles were found under the outline; these could have been used at any post-Roman period.

According to local legend, the Long Man was a giant who died there on the hillside; some said he was killed by a shepherd boy, others that he just fell down the steep slope and broke his neck, others that he was killed by a rival giant when they were hurling stones at each other, and the figure was drawn around his corpse. There is also said to be treasure buried nearby.

J. P. Elmslie, Folk-Lore 26 (1915), 162–4;C. Hawkes, Antiquity 39 (1965), 27–30;J. H. Farrant, Sussex Archaeological Collections 131 (1993), 129–38.

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