“The Long Man will never wake!”: Hill figures in Punch cartoons, 1925-1990

Gregory John Michaelson* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Hill figures are a much loved, but widely misunderstood, feature of predominantly southern British chalk downlands. While the Uffington White Horse has been dated to 1000 BCE, most of the other 57 extant hill figures were constructed in the last 300 years. Nonetheless, they seem to form timeless symbols of place and belonging in the public imagination.

In wider research into popular perceptions of prehistory, 20 cartoons from Punch involving hill figures were found, from 1925 to 1990. The majority show “white horses”, of which half are set in an inappropriate past to which their construction is attributed. Other cartoons riff on modern concerns, variously appropriating them in World War 2 defiance, as sites for artists and day trippers, and against modern development of the countryside. Curiously, while several cartoons show the Long Man of Wilmington, the sexualised Cerne Abbas Giant is not directly represented.

The purported humour of many cartoons depends on a supposed lack of understanding of why, or by whom, hill figures were constructed. Thus, while the cartoonists often had real hill figures as models, the cartoons’ effects do not depend on verisimilitude. As with other prehistoric cartoons, this suggests that hill figure cartoons may help reproduce popular misconceptions.


ConferenceAssociation for Environmental Archaeology Conference 2022
Abbreviated titleAEA 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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