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Thornborough Henges NMP

Thornborough locationThe Thornborough Henges NMP project was carried out in partnership with West Yorkshire Archaeology Service (WYAS) and funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF). It covered an area of 100km2 lying within North Yorkshire. The project was carried out to inform English Heritage’s Conservation Plan for the setting of the henges.

This landscape is under pressure from aggregates extraction.

Thornborough Henges seen from the south © English Heritage. NMR

Thornborough Henges seen from the south with the double pit alignment during excavation in the foreground as photographed on 27-AUG-1999 . Water filled gravel quarries are visible close to the henges (NMR 17393/06). © English Heritage. NMR.

Archaeological and geographical context

The Thornborough henge complex comprises three Neolithic Class II henges situated on the low lying fluvio-glacial gravels on the northern bank of the River Ure. The area has increasingly come under pressure from large scale gravel extraction and at the time of the project a planning application had been submitted that would have encroached further into the henges’ immediate landscape.

Thornborough henges sit within a wider group of seven henges lying between the Rivers Ure and Swale; these represent the largest group outside Wessex. They form part of a broader ritual landscape including a cursus, probable mortuary enclosures, pit alignments and Bronze Age barrows. Limited excavation of the henges was carried out in the 1950s and Dr Jan Harding (University of Newcastle) has undertaken research-led work on the wider landscape.

The central henge and cursus © Crown copyright. NMR Riley Collection

The central henge’s bank survives as an earthwork while the inner and outer ditches are clearly defined as cropmarks. The earlier cursus can be seen as a pair of parallel ditches on this photograph taken by Derek Riley on 10-JUL-1976 (DNR 983/12). © Crown copyright. NMR Riley Collection.

Mapping of the Thornborough landscape

The northern and central henges survive as substantial earthworks, although the north henge is covered by woodland. The southern henge is severely denuded and largely only visible as a cropmark. An earlier cursus underlies the central henge and has partially been destroyed by gravel extraction. It was possible, however, to map the cropmarks of the cursus in these areas from historic photography taken before the quarrying took place.

Although the slighting of the southern henge severely denuded the earthworks, the resulting cropmark evidence revealed details about the henge’s construction. These included either a recut of the inner ditch, or earlier feature and a possible scoop around the bank. A previously unidentified feature was also seen as a cropmark just inside the north-western entrance of the north henge.

Other new discoveries include a possible Neolithic mortuary enclosure, similar in size and form to an excavated example nearby, and pit alignments with stone packing visible as a cropmark. The NMP mapping has also placed the henges in their broader chronological landscape. Other features mapped have related to the Bronze Age ritual landscape, Iron Age/ Roman land division and settlement, and 20th century military activities.

An extract of NMP mapping of the henges © English Heritage. NMR

An extract of NMP mapping of the henges. The cursus can be seen running parallel with the modern road south of the central henge. Air photo mapping © English Heritage. NMR. © Crown Copyright and database right 2009. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019088. 2009.

The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.


Aerial Investigation and Mapping - York
Heritage Protection Department

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The project was carried out by staff from  West Yorkshire Archaeological Services
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