Thornborough, NYorksA case study in ritual and methodology Location Ritual Landscape/monument complex Archaeological methods Use of virtual technology Risk and preservation-the impact of quarrying
Described by English Heritage as the most important ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys.
The Thornborough Henges are part of a larger, sacred Neolithic landscape which was used for over a thousand years. The Henges were built over a pre-existing Cursus, which is no longer visible above ground Knight and Butler proposed that the complex was positioned at 1/10th the planets circumference from the pole (Based on a division of 366°). The Henges all have circumferences of 732 megalithic yards (366 x 2)
The three Henges follow the same off-centre alignment seen at other triple-circles in England. the triple-circle was built over an existing Cursus, suggesting that Thornborough was already an important ritual centre to the Neolithic residents between 4,000 and 2,000 BC. although we have little or no idea of what the rituals were, it is proposed that they were partly astronomical in nature.
Research Project Phase One: 1994 - 2002 address two fundamental problems with interpreting the Thornborough complex. chronology of the three henges and other nearby monuments. The second major problem concernsthe lack of evidence for contemporary settlement in and around the complex.
Phase 2-Follow up Desk top assessment of the monument complex Archaeological Resource Guide for the complex and its landscape report on the Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology Further fieldwork, including topographic survey, geophysical prospection and excavation of the round barrows at the complex•
Concentration of worked stones
Use of virtual reality techniques to support an hypothesis The specific objective was to develop a model of the monument complex and the surrounding landscape. The double pit alignmentwhich extends for 350m on a north-east/south-west orientation was chosen as a case study to test techniques and theories on.
Sited across a gravel plateau which flanks the River Ure are three almost identical and equally-spaced henge monuments which all share the same north-west/south-east alignment. They are each placed approximately 550m apart and the alignment extends for nearly 1.7km.The regularity of their layout is complemented by the spatial integration of other monuments. The central henge is superimposed upon an earlier cursus which is 1.1km long and 44m wide, while a double pit alignment, known from aerial photography to extend for at least 350m, is located alongside the southern henge. A number of round barrowsare scattered across the surrounding landscape including at each end of the double pit alignment. Such a concentration is unusual, and the design of the henges also sets Thornborough apart from most comparable later Neolithic complexes. Their size is almost identical, each possessing a diameter of around 240m, while each henge is defined by a massive ditch and bank, interrupted by a pair of entrances, and an outer ditch which is both irregular and segmentary in outline. Recent excavations have demonstrated that the latter may have been associated with an outer bank. Their design is matched only by the three almost identical monuments a few kilometres downstream at Nunwick, Hutton Moor and Cana Barn, and the more distant site of Big Rings at Dorchester-on-Thames (Oxfordshire).
The establishment of the henge complex was to strikingly affect existing patterns of occupation and activity across the surrounding landscape. The programme of surface collection has identified extremely low and evenly spread numbers of later Mesolithic and early Neolithic lithics from across the study area, but change seems to have occurred at the end of this period. There was a decline in the amount of worked lithics from around the henges and the surrounding plateau across which they were constructed, matched by the clustering of the far more numerous later Neolithic material in areas more distant from the complex. A significant percentage of this worked flint and chert is similar to that found elsewhere in association with Grooved Ware pottery. This transformation therefore appears to be contemporary with the construction of the henge monuments. The pattern of separation continues with the early Bronze Age material. The results of the fieldwalking demonstrate that the vast majority of later Neolithic and early Bronze Age lithics are located over 600m from the henge monuments. This material is densely clustered to the east and north of the study area. The most notable example of such a concentration is some 900m east of the central henge across the slopes of a low ridge (Chapel Hill). This concentration may be the product of repeated short-term occupancy rather than permanent settlement, suggesting that groups only temporarily settled the landscape as they visited the complex. The striking contrast, from the later Neolithic onwards, between the immediate vicinity of the monument complex and more distant areas suggests that a distinction was maintained between what were ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ parts of the landscape, also demonstrated by the extremely small amounts of lithics from the excavations undertaken at the monuments. Social tradition may have led to the plateau, upon which the henges are sited, being kept clear of occupation as groups undertook the variouscelebrations and commemorations associated with these sites. The suggestion that the two zones could have been perceived differently is reiterated by the largest of the known surface concentrations at Chapel Hill. This is the only location in the local landscape from which visibility across the central plateau is entirely blocked. The obscuring of all three henge monuments, by the rising relief of a low ridge, is specific to this one place and should perhaps be seen as representing the very deliberate selection of an area for temporary occupation. The other known scatters which date from the later Neolithic onwards are smaller and possess relatively high amounts of either scrapers or cores. These may indicate specialised activity rather than repeated occupation. From these there are more open views towards the henge monuments.
"Thornborough was a sacred landscape, a place of religious worship, and we should try to interpret these astronomical orientations within that context.