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.
This henge monument is visible as earthworks and cropmarks on air photos. It appears to comprise an inner ditch circuit describing a near-circular enclosure approximately 100m in diameter. There are two opposed causewayed entrances facing near north and south. This circuit is irregular in width, varying between 4m and 10m and may have been cut in individual sections. Surrounding the ditch is an outer bank. Similar to the ditch it appears to compromise of several straight lengths of bank rather than a smooth curve, especially on the western side. The embanked circuit has an internal diameter of approximately 150m. The tone of the crop around the bank is quite different from the rest of the field and this is interpreted here as an indication of a shallow hollow. This feature is present on the inner and outer sides of the bank and around some of the bank terminals at the two entrances. A double ditched linear feature aligned between the two entrances is visible as a cropmark within the southern half of the henge. This may have marked an avenue leading to the centre of the monument, where slower ripening crops indicate a slight hollow. The southern edge of this monument is clipped by a modern field boundary, the henge banks appeared to survive as slight earthworks on 1971 air photos but no upstanding remains were apparent on the 2009 Google Earth air photos. (7-10)
SE 3526 7353: Earthen Circle [O.E.] (1) SE 353 735: Hutton Moor. North Circle. (2) SE 352 735: Henge monument class IIA. (3)
The earthwork has been considerably reduced and denuded by modern ploughing but despite this the published survey (25 1912) remains correct. This cultivation which is still in operation is further reducing and spreading the circular bank and internal ditch and although these features are still substantial in height their limits are now poorly defined. A slight but wide external depression is traceable around the entire earthwork except at the north and south entrances where a well spread causeway leading from the central platform crosses it. These latter features are not surveyable and have been annotated on the 25" survey. (4)
SE 3525 7353: Entry in corpus; No 209. Classic henge with bank lying between two ditches. Ditch terminals are roughly squared. Internal diameter range circa 93-96 metres, external diameter range circa 240-254 metres, inner ditch circa 10-18 metres wide (estimated from transcription). Orientation north north west to south south east. Raistrick excavated parts of the inner ditch before 1929. (5)
SE 3525 7352: Henge monument 500 metres north west of Low Barn. Scheduled RSM No 25578. The bank is 45 metres wide and stands to a max height of 3 metres. The inner ditch, which remains as a slight hollow, is 5 metres wide. The inner enclosure has a diameter of 80 metres. The overall external diameter is as stated by Authority 5. There are two entrances at the north and south, formed by access causeways. The monument is crossed by two modern fence lines. (6)
This henge comprises several elements. An inner ditch circuit (c. 10-12m wide) of sub-circular plan with a maximum diameter of 100m. Some photos show the inner ditch to be discountinuous but others do not but this may indicate that the depth of the ditch varies around the circuit. The cropmarks suggest there is a possible pit within the north-west quadrant of the inner area and there is slight evidence for an internal bank. The inner ditch circuit has opposed entrances facing to the north and to the south. Surrounding the ditch is an outer bank, which sits on the berm between the inner ditch and a second outer ditch. The berm is some 50m wide and bank material appears to be spread across it on many of the air photos, but the 1973 photos indicated that the original base of the bank was only 15-17m wide and was situated near the middle of the berm. There are two entrances in the bank, both aligned with those in the inner ditch. The outer-most ditch is less regular in width, measuring between 6m and 16m it too has entrances aligned with those in the inner ditch. The outer ditch terminals are notably square, the bank terminal appear slight flared and higher than the rest of the bank ring, whilst the inner ditch terminals are more rounded. The western edge of the outer ditch is clipped by a modern field boundary. 2007 and 2009 air photos suggest this monument does still survive as low earthworks. (7-12)
[SE 323 747] A new circle of Thornborough type at Nunwick, some portions of which are extant, discovered by Dr JK St Joseph, is visible on air photographs as a crop-mark circle of about 120 m. diameter. The site is very nearly on the alignment of the axis of the Thornborough Circles, though it is nearer to the Hutton Moor pair. Its measurement agrees well with the diameter of the inner ditch of the central Thornborough circle. (1)
The slight remains of the circle, surveyed at 1:2500, are situated at SE 3229 7484. Its bank is traceable throughout as a broad swelling of indeterminate height, and the inner ditch is discernible, in places, as a superficial depression. There is no evidence of any external ditch, which is a feature of the Thornborough type of circle.
A preliminary excavation by Mr. D. Dymond of R.C.H.M. York, in 1961 added no additional information. Survey of 22.5.62 checked and correct. (2)
A large monument (Atkinson's Class II) visible as a low bank with internal ditch, and having two opposed entrances on the north and south, corresponding causeways being visible across the ditch on APs. Limited excavation was carried out by D. P. Dymond in 1961. The overall diameter is about 690 ft., the bank was originally 60 ft. wide, now much spread; present height 18 inches. The ditch was 45 ft. wide and 5 ft. 10 inches deep. There was originally a berm of 30 ft. between bank and ditch.
At an early stage in the silting of the ditch there was occupation in a limited area, revealed by a circular patch of burnt material 10 ft. in diameter, containing many pot-boilers. No dating evidence was found but three worked flints, two waste flakes and a scraper came from plough soil in the field to the south-west. (Now in Yorkshire Museum) [See AO/LP/64/11 & 12 - Plan & AP.] (3) SE 3229 7483. Henge monument 300m N of Nunwick. Scheduled RSM No 25585. (4)
Entry in corpus; No 212 Nunwick. Classic henge orientated NNW-SSE.(5)
This henge is visible as cropmarks and low earthworks on historic and recent air photos and lidar-derived images at SE3229 7484. It lies close to where Nunwick Beck and the modified channel of Hallikeld Stell meet before they merge with the River Ure. The henge ditch is approximately 7m wide and encloses a sub-circular area approximately 100m in diameter. There are opposed causewayed entrance facing near north and near south. The lidar-derived images suggest an outer bank that is some 30m wide but much of this is likely to be spread caused by medieval and later ploughing. Although there is a hint of a bank terminus near the northern entrance generally the bank appears to be continuous, again because of the impact of medieval and later ploughing. (6-8)