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Ure-Swale Plateau

Miscellaneous

Ritual Landscapes

The Later Neolithic and early Bronze Age is known (to EH at least) as the period of ritual landscapes. This is because it was during these times that Henges and other "ritual" landscape features were being created for the first time, their apparent lack of practical use, and relationship to burial grounds, typically represented by barrows.

At Thornborough there is a convincing argument for a ritual landscape. Between Borroughbridge and Thornborough there are six identical yet unique henge monuments, these all share the same size (260m dia.) and type (henge with two entrances and ditches on the inside and the outside of the bank). Four of the henges sit on an alignment with the Devils Arrows, at Boroughbridge, the other two forming a second alignment with the same.

Archaeological evidence shows that the henges had at least two distinct phases of construction, which resulted in their current shape. Firstly, approx. 2,200BC a classic type II henge was canstructed (two entrances, one outer bank, one inner bank), then the outer bank was reduced and a new bank created inside the original ditch, with a new ditch being constructed within this, thus forming their current shape.

The uniformity of construction, coupled with the alignments that they sit on, and other factors identified by archaeology strongly suggest that they were a part of a prolonged and co-ordinated "architecting" of the overall landscape.

It is probably the term "ritual" which is the most unfortunate (although I can't think of a better term) since it brings up all sorts of religious connotations which somewhat cloud the waters.

A good example of the case for ritual however, also comes from Thornborough, where a large number of polished stone axes from Langdale in Cumbria have been found. These were mainly in an "as new" condition, and seemingly were deposited in what would have been a boggy area slightly to the north of the complex (the current quarry). The evidence of them being unused and apparently deposited yet presumably of having some value (they travelled here from Cumbria, and were extremely well made) is suggestive of a deliberate and ritualistic deposition. Combining these two factors and one can see how this period could easily construed as that of ritual landscapes.

But the term ritual does not simply mean religious, look at football - it is possibly the largest example of ritual behaviour in Britain, many would say verging on a religion for some, it has resulted in the creation of thousands of large amphitheatres, and no doubt has resulted in the creation of many personal and group rituals, some may include the destruction of prized objects, yet it does not form part of our "religion" as such.

So, ritual deposits - an offering to the gods? or did the "axe team" lose the championship?
Posted by BrigantesNation
3rd October 2003ce
Edited 3rd October 2003ce

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