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?
This link argues that a prehistoric trackway passed by the Devils Arrows. Since it was written, Catterick henge has been discovered. A line drawn between Catterick Henge and the Arrows cuts through the centre of Cana Barn and Hutton Moor Henges. Furthermore, if extended south it cuts through Newton Kyme henge.
The fact that three of these henges are identical`and that they are built on a stright alignment gives strength to the suggestion that a dead stright overland route existed in the Neolithic period.
Solar farm sparks fears for 'Stonehenge of the North'
A GOVERNMENT service which champions England's heritage has condemned a scheme to site a 960-panel solar farm near the most important ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkney Islands.
Historic England said the small-scale renewable energy scheme at East Tanfield, near Ripon, could harm the neighbouring Thornborough Henge Scheduled Monument complex, which featured ritual structures, massive circular ditches and banks dating back 4,000 years to the Bronze Age.
North Yorkshire County Council archaeologist Lucie Hawkins has called for the application to be withdrawn, stating she was disappointed the plan had been submitted to Hambleton District Council without any assessment of the impact on the historic environment.
Development consultants Arrowsmith Associates said Richard Alton, the owner of Rushwood Hall, once the seat of the Nussey baronetcy and home to Teesside steelworks artist Viva Talbot, was seeking to provide energy for the crop services business based at the hall and a number of cottages.
A spokesman for the firm said the application site, 500 metres from the henges and medieval village, was not close enough to either of these to have any impact on them.
He added the solar panels would be completely screened by trees and their impact on the landscape, which also includes East Tanfield deserted medieval village, would be negligible.
He said: "What public views would exist would be seen in the context of an ever increasing acceptance that such sites are part of the modern rural landscape, as supported by government policy."
Objecting to the scheme, Historic England said the solar panels would represent "a distinctly modern intervention" in a sensitive landscape of regional, national and international historical significance, with the henge complex being "one of the pre-eminent prehistoric landscape complexes in Britain".
Its ancient monuments inspector Keith Emerick said: "The henges are part of a ritual landscape that extends beyond the surrounding wetlands to Catterick in the north and south to Ferrybridge.
"Only four henge sites in the British Isles are larger, all in Wiltshire and Dorset, and nowhere else are there three closely-spaced and identical henge monuments. The northernmost henge is believed to be the best-preserved henge monument in the country."
Mr Emerick said part of the site's importance was that it was located within a bowl, which had a lack of "overtly modern intrusion".
Proposals to screen the site, he said, a regional hub in the social, economic and religious life of many widely dispersed groups in the Neolithic era, were temporary and changeable.
A group of three late Neolithic/early Bronze Age henge monuments alligned in a row, surviving as earthworks and cropmarks. Further details are contained in the individual henge records (SE 27 NE 31, 32,33). The features have been mapped as part of the Thornborough Henges NMP project. See individual records for details.
A Neolithic cursus is visible as a cropmark on air photographs. The feature is aligned north-east south-west and is overlain by Thornborough Central henge. The cursus comprises a single ditch which is broken in parts and a rounded end is visible to the south-west. No evidence for a north-eastern terminus is visible on the air photographs. Much of the monument has now been destroyed through sand and gravel extraction.
Excavations took place in the 1940s and 1950s. The cursus underlies the central Thornborough henge circle (SE 27 NE 32), and a stone cist containing a crouched inhumation was found approximately on the centre line of the cursus during quarrying.
Palaeochannels are visible on air photographs as cropmarks in this area and have been mapped as part of the Thornborough AP Mapping project. It is possible that they may obscure other archaeological features.