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The Thornborough Henges


Private Eye - Henge and Racket - 4th March 2005

THE Thornborough Henges, three huge prehistoric circle-and-ditch structures near Ripon in North Yorkshire, have been described as "the Stonehenge of the North".
Such is the archaeological importance of these little-known monuments, laid out some 5,000 years ago in an area as rich with barrows, cursuses, and other remains as Salisbury Plain, that English Heritage describes Thornborough as the most important ancient site between Wiltshire and the Orkneys. Each of Thornborough's circles is 240 metres across - large enough to contain 10 Stonehenges. But the visitor who turns off the A1 in search of the henges will find no helpful brown sign to guide him. Better to look out for the giant conveyors on which Tarmac Northern Ltd, a subsidiary of Anglo-American, the world's biggest mining company, extracts 500,000 tons of gravel a year from its Nosterfield quarry, a couple of hundred yards to the north of the monument.
Tarmac has already worked out large quarries immediately to the west of the henges, and Nosterfield is coming to the end of its life. Tarmac has therefore applied to North Yorkshire county council (NYCC) for planning permission to open another quarry at nearby Ladybridge farm. In the longer term it plans to excavate all the land around the henges, in some places coming as close as 50 metres to the monuments. When quarrying is finished the henges would survive as an island in the middle of a series of lakes, as it is cheaper for Tarmac to let the holes it has made fill up with water (and call them "nature reserves") than restore the landscape to farmland.
For many people who care about Britain's heritage, the thought of this important ancient landscape being torn up is appalling. In a parliamentary answer to Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh in December 2003, culture secretary Tessa Jowell said: "My officials are supporting English Heritage's firm opposition to any further gravel extraction in the vicinity of the scheduled site until...the archaeology is better understood. English Heritage is concerned about the wider landscape setting of the henge monuments and is currently funding a project by Newcastle University to undertake extensive archaeological research in this area."
Alas the campaign to save the henge landscape is seemingly being undermined by the very man whose job it is to protect it. North Yorkshire county archaeologist Neil Campling has told people not to sign a petition calling for an end to quarrying within a mile of the henges because "there are currently no planning applications for, and not even any discussions about, quarrying around the middle and southern henges" - which isn't true - and because there is "little archaeology" in the fields around the henges.
How Mr Campling can know this, when little investigation has been done, is a mystery. He is happy for Tarmac's own archaeologist Mike Griffiths (Campling's predecessor at the county council) to investigate a sample of just two percent of the Ladybridge site. Other archaeologists believe a sample of eight to 10 percent would give a better idea of what may be there. Ten years ago a two percent survey of Nosterfield - just 50 metres from Ladybridge - led to the conclusion that there was little of interest in the ground, and the planning application was passed. When the diggers went in, Tarmac's archaeologists were "surprised" to find what they admitted was "the largest group of Neolithic features of this type so far recognised in the North of England". Now Tarmac is poised to make the same "mistake" again. But at least it'll get its gravel.
Posted by archae_logical
3rd March 2005ce
Edited 4th March 2005ce

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