Thornborough Henges

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The three henges of the Thornborough Henges complex Thornborough Henge.jpg
The three henges of the Thornborough Henges complex

The Thornborough Henges are an unusual ancient monument complex that includes the three aligned henges that give the site its name. The complex is located near the village of Thornborough, close to the town of Masham in North Yorkshire, England. The complex includes many large ancient structures including a cursus, henges, burial grounds and settlements. They are thought to have been part of a Neolithic and Bronze Age 'ritual landscape' comparable to Salisbury Plain and date from between 3500 and 2500 BC. This monument complex has been called 'The Stonehenge of the North'. Historic England considers its landscape comparable in ceremonial importance to better known sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury, and Orkney. [1]

Henge Type of Neolithic earthwork

There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork that are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three is that they feature a ring-shaped bank and ditch, with the ditch inside the bank. Because the internal ditches would have served defensive purposes poorly, henges are not considered to have been defensive constructions. The three henge types are as follows, with the figure in brackets being the approximate diameter of the central flat area:

  1. Henge (> 20 m). The word henge refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, typically consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area of more than 20 m (66 ft) in diameter. There is typically little if any evidence of occupation in a henge, although they may contain ritual structures such as stone circles, timber circles and coves. Henge monument is sometimes used as a synonym for henge. Henges sometimes, but by no means always, featured stone or timber circles, and circle henge is sometimes used to describe these structures. The three largest stone circles in Britain are each in a henge. Examples of henges without significant internal monuments are the three henges of Thornborough Henges. Although having given its name to the word henge, Stonehenge is atypical in that the ditch is outside the main earthwork bank.
  2. Hengiform monument (5 – 20 m). Like an ordinary henge except the central flat area is between 5 and 20 m (16–66 ft) in diameter, they comprise a modest earthwork with a fairly wide outer bank. Mini henge or Dorchester henge are sometimes used as synonyms for hengiform monument. An example is the Neolithic site at Wormy Hillock Henge.
  3. Henge enclosure (> 300 m). A Neolithic ring earthwork with the ditch inside the bank, with the central flat area having abundant evidence of occupation and usually being more than 300 m (980 ft) in diameter. Some true henges are as large as this, but lack evidence of domestic occupation. Super henge is sometimes used as a synonym for a henge enclosure. However, sometimes Super henge is used to indicate size alone rather than use, e.g. "Marden henge ... is the least understood of the four British 'superhenges' (the others being Avebury, Durrington Walls and Mount Pleasant Henge".
Thornborough, North Yorkshire village in United Kingdom

Thornborough is a village in Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, England. It is about 7 miles (11 km) south of Bedale and 3 miles (5 km) west of the A1 road. Thornborough is in the West Tanfield parish. The Thornborough Henges ancient monuments are situated south and west of the village.

Masham market town and civil parish in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire, England

Masham is a small market town and civil parish in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire, England. It had a population of 1,205 at the 2011 census.

Contents

In recent decades, there has been public concern about the impact on the ritual landscape of quarrying by Tarmac.

Tarmac is a British building materials company headquartered in Solihull, England. The company was formed as Lafarge Tarmac in March 2013, by the merger of Anglo American's Tarmac UK and Lafarge's operations in the United Kingdom. In July 2014, Anglo American agreed to sell its stake to Lafarge, to assist Lafarge in its merger with Holcim and allay competition concerns.


Cursus

The cursus is the oldest and largest ancient monument at Thornborough. It is almost a mile in extent and runs from Thornborough Village, under the (later) central henge and terminates close to the River Ure in a broadly east/west alignment.

Cursuses are perhaps the most enigmatic of ancient monuments. They typically comprise two parallel ditches, the larger of which can be a mile or more in extent, cut to create a "cigar shaped" enclosure. Typically, burial mounds and mortuary enclosures are found alongside cursus monuments indicating that they probably had a ceremonial function.

Henges

The three henges are almost identical in size and composition, each having a diameter of approximately 240 metres and two large entrances situated directly opposite each other. The henges are located around 550 m apart on an approximate northwest-southeast alignment, although there is a curious 'dogleg' in the layout. Altogether, the monument extends for more than a mile.

Archaeological excavation of the central henge has taken place. It has been suggested that its banks were covered with locally mined gypsum. The resulting white sheen would have been striking and visible for miles around. A double alignment of pits, possibly evidence of a timber processional avenue, extends from the southern henge.

Gypsum mineral, calcium sulfate with bounded water

Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O. It is widely mined and is used as a fertilizer and as the main constituent in many forms of plaster, blackboard chalk and wallboard. A massive fine-grained white or lightly tinted variety of gypsum, called alabaster, has been used for sculpture by many cultures including Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ancient Rome, the Byzantine Empire and the Nottingham alabasters of Medieval England. Gypsum also crystallizes as beautiful translucent crystals of selenite (mineral). It also forms as an evaporite mineral and as a hydration product of anhydrite.

The 'dogleg' in the layout appears to cause the layout of the henges to mirror the three stars of Orion's Belt. The exact purpose of the henges is unclear though archaeological finds suggest that they served economic and social purposes as well as astronomical ones.

Orions Belt Asterism

Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion, also known as the Three Kings or Three Sisters, is an asterism in the constellation Orion. It consists of the three bright stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

The Northern henge is currently overgrown with trees but is one of the best preserved henges in Britain. The Central and Southern henges are in poorer condition although the banks of the henges are still quite prominent, especially in the case of the Central henge. To gain a full appreciation of the scale of the monument it is best viewed from the air.

Bealtaine

The May King and Queen, Thornborough Central Henge, Beltaine 2005 MayKingandQueen.jpg
The May King and Queen, Thornborough Central Henge, Beltaine 2005

All three of the Thornborough henges and the narrow strip of land connecting them are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. However, the land is privately owned and there is no official public access. Despite this, the site does have a steady stream of visitors throughout the year. Since 2004 there has been an opportunity for public access to the central henge, which is owned by Tarmac Northern Ltd. [2] to attend the celebration of the ancient Gaelic festival of Bealtaine. On 1 May 2005 this event was attended by around 150 people from across the north of England.

Gaels Ethnic group

The Gaels are an ethnolinguistic group native to northwestern Europe. They are associated with the Gaelic languages: a branch of the Celtic languages comprising Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic. Historically, the ethnonyms Irish and Scots referred to the Gaels in general, but the scope of those nationalities is today more complex.

Quarrying

Extensive quarrying has destroyed much of the monument's setting to the north and west of the henges. The site lies within the wider Nosterfield quarry area being exploited for gravel by Tarmac Northern Ltd. Although the henges themselves are not threatened, Tarmac now wishes to extend its quarrying operations to a 45 hectare site less than a mile east of the henges known as 'Ladybridge Farm'. [3] Preliminary investigations of this area of land to discern its archaeological significance have suggested that it may have been a location of ritual Neolithic encampments, possibly used by those people who built or visited the henges. Opponents of the plan claim that if permission was granted for this area to be quarried, much of the remaining contextual information about the henges would be lost. A campaign led by local people and concerned archaeologists is attempting to persuade Tarmac and North Yorkshire County Council to guarantee the protection of the area. British planning and archaeology guidelines prefer preservation in situ of archaeological remains. In cases where this is not possible, such as quarrying, preservation by record is an option, involving archaeological excavation. Campaigners argue that further excavation and subsequent quarrying will destroy the ritual landscape completely.

North Yorkshire County Council British administrative authority

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is the county council that governs the non-metropolitan county of North Yorkshire in England.

Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning commonly abbreviated as PPG 16, was a document produced by the UK Government to advise local planning authorities in England and Wales on the treatment of archaeology within the planning process. It was introduced in November 1990 following public outcry after a number of high-profile scandals such as the threatened destruction of the Rose Theatre in London by developers. It replaced the earlier Circular 8/87 which was criticized for being ill-focused in both practical and geographical terms. On 23 March 2010 the Government published 'Planning Policy Statement 5:Planning and the Historic Environment' replacing and cancelling PPG16 and PPG15 which had dealt with the rest of the historic environment.

Excavation (archaeology) Exposure, processing and recording of archaeological remains

In archaeology, excavation is the exposure, processing and recording of archaeological remains. An excavation site or "dig" is a site being studied. Such a site excavation concerns itself with a specific archaeological site or a connected series of sites, and may be conducted over as little as several weeks to over a number of years.

In 2002 Tarmac Northern Ltd. expressed an intention to apply for planning permission to quarry Thornborough Moor, thus intending to quarry right up to the edge of the designated scheduled monument area. In March 2005, Tarmac stated it would not seek to apply for planning permission to quarry this site for at least ten years, the period covered by North Yorkshire County Council's Minerals Plan.

In February 2006 North Yorkshire County Council turned down Tarmac's application to expand quarrying to the Ladybridge Farm site. Later in 2006 Tarmac submitted a revised planning application to North Yorkshire County Council. The revised application for Ladybridge, which is adjacent to the Nosterfield Quarry, reduced the proposed area for sand and gravel extraction from 45 hectares to 31 hectares, avoiding the south west section of the site to address concerns raised about archaeology. The application was approved in February 2007.

Late in 2007 campaign group Friends of Thornborough requested a judicial review of the planning permission due to a number of procedural irregularities. In response, North Yorkshire County Council ruled the permission to be "fatally flawed," and withdrew the permission previously granted. It is now planned that the planning application will be re-determined by North Yorkshire County Council planning committee on 22 April 2008. Planners indicated that granting of permission was likely. However, campaign group TimeWatch raised the issue of Neolithic archaeology found within the new quarry area since the last planning meeting.

In November 2016, North Yorkshire County Council’s planning committee agreed with the owners Tarmac to approve further quarrying in return for preserving[ clarification needed ] the site of the Thornborough Henges and 90 acres of surrounding land, which would eventually be handed over to the public body.

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References

  1. Historic England. "Thornborough Henges (52056)". PastScape. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  2. Nosterfield
  3. Hammond, Norman (24 August 2004). "Battle to preserve Thornborough henges". The Times. Retrieved 11 January 2019.

Coordinates: 54°12′22″N1°34′20″W / 54.20599°N 1.57223°W / 54.20599; -1.57223