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The Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society

Since 1863

For everyone interested in Yorkshire's past

Neolithic Yorkshire – Thornborough henges

Yorkshire hosts the largest group of prehistoric earthworks in Britain: stretching from the standing stones at Boroughbridge in the south to the cursus already destroyed at Scorton in the north are the remains of dozens of monuments constituting a landscape that was sacred to our prehistoric ancestors. Considered together, these monuments are an archaeological record equal in importance to the World Heritage Sites of Stonehenge, Avebury and Orkney – yet they remain virtually unknown to the wider public.


Thornborough Henges (Crown copyright NMR)

The cover illustration of The Archaeology of Yorkshire: an assessment at the beginning of the 21st century is a spectacular air photographic view of the three massive Thornborough henge monuments, each 240m in diameter, with the double pit alignment under excavation, which is just a part of this multi-period landscape

This illustration was selected for the cover by virtue of the regional and wider national significance of these earthworks making up the greatest henge monument concentration in the British Isles. They attest to an exceptional level of planning and a mobilisation of labour on a par with the construction of the pyramids.

In the Vale of Mowbray, the northern extension of Yorkshire’s central lowlands dividing the uplands of the North York Moors from the Pennines, on a broad spread of sand and gravel between the rivers Ure and Swale sits a remarkable group of six earthwork henge monuments: the three Thornborough henges, the nearby individual Hutton Moor, Cana and Nunwick henges, a scatter of round barrows, and the Devil's Arrows stone row south of the Ure.


Neolithic: Thornborough henges

Post-war aerial archaeology recorded a linear north-south cursus monument underlying the central Thornborough henge. More recently, beginning in 1994, the Vale of Mowbray Project led by Jan Harding, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, investigated the relationship of the central henge to the cursus monument, the western entrance of the southern henge, a length of double pit alignment, a rectangular mortuary enclosure, and carried on extensive field walking around the monument complex, treating the whole area as an integrated ritual landscape.