Reasons for Designation
Cross dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km
long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or
more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges
and spurs. They are recognised as earthworks or as cropmarks on aerial
photographs, or as combinations of both. The evidence of excavation and
analogy with associated monuments demonstrates that their construction spans
the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been re-used
later. Current information favours the view that they were used as territorial
boundary markers, probably demarcating land allotment within communities,
although they may also have been used as trackways, cattle droveways or
defensive earthworks. Cross dykes are one of the few monument types which
illustrate how land was divided up in the prehistoric period. They are of
considerable importance for any analysis of settlement and land use in the
Bronze Age. Very few have survived to the present day and hence all well-
preserved examples are considered to be of national importance.
Although partially altered by agricultural activity, the cross-dyke is well-
preserved over most of its length and is thought to comprise a complete dyke
which is part of an extensive system of prehistoric dykes which has been
recorded on Birdsall Wold. The cross-dyke is directly associated with two bowl
barrows, funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age.
Bowl barrows were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched,
which covered single or multiple burials. Although one of the barrows has been
altered by agricultural activity, it was comparatively well documented during
a campaign of fieldwork in the 19th century. They will contain significant
information on the form of the barrow mounds and the burials placed within
The monument is associated with other broadly contemporary monuments of
similar type on Birdsall Wold. Parallels are also known from other parts of
the Wolds and from the southern edge of the North York Moors. Such
associations between monuments offer important scope for the study of the
division of land for social, ritual and agricultural purposes in different
geographical areas during the prehistoric period.
The monument includes a cross-dyke running from Swinham Wood across Birdsall
Wold into Vessey Pasture Dale and two round barrows which are incorporated
into the cross-dyke. Also included is a short length of a cross-dyke which ran
from Vessey Pasture Dale to Water Dale.
Although partially altered by agricultural activity and its use as a later
trackway, about two thirds of the length of the dyke survives as an earthwork.
The remainder is thought to survive as a buried feature, part of which has
been observed on aerial photographs. The cross-dyke is also recorded on the
OS 6 inch map series and a 19th century survey by J R Mortimer and it is
thought that the monument includes the complete original length of the dyke.
The part of the dyke which curves up Birdsall Brow from Swinham Wood comprises
a parallel pair of 6m wide ditches, having an overall width of 20m. These
ditches are now infilled and are not visible at the surface, except for a 100m
stretch of the western ditch which survives as a modern field boundary. At the
top of Birdsall Brow, the dyke runs eastwards for a short distance until it
reaches the first bowl barrow. This is a mound 10m in diameter and about 1.5m
high situated on the bank between the two ditches. The barrow was recorded by
Mortimer but not excavated. The dyke then veers southwards, the western ditch
running beside a modern farm track, and a 0.5m high bank lies between the
ditch and the track and is a remnant of a bank which originally separated the
ditches; the eastern ditch is thought to lie beneath the surface of the track.
At the junction with the modern road, a quarry has altered the western ditch
but the below-ground remains of the dyke are thought to continue beneath the
metalled surface of the road. South of the road, the trackway follows the
course of the eastern ditch, which has become a hollow way about 1m deep
leading towards the head of Vessey Pasture Dale. The western ditch is thought
to survive as a buried feature in the adjacent field. Mortimer recorded and
excavated a bowl barrow which lay between the ditches and, although it has
been considerably altered over the years, a 2m high mound of earth still
remains just south of the road, on the west side of the track. The dyke
continues into Vessey Pasture Dale, turning eastwards to follow the valley
floor. At this point it becomes a single 10m wide ditch, 2m deep. Further
down, as the valley broadens, the ditch becomes shallower and is flanked on
the north side by a 0.3m high bank. It is joined from the south by a cross-
dyke from Water Dale; although this dyke is thought to have continued into
Water Dale, following the modern field boundary, there is no evidence that any
features survive on the higher ground so only the best-preserved part of the
dyke is included in this scheduling. The dyke comprises a broad 12m wide ditch
which runs down the southern scarp of Vessey Pasture Dale to form a pond at
the foot of the slope at its junction with the major cross-dyke. The main dyke
continues down the Dale until finally, at the head of Back Dale, it meets with
three more cross-dykes. (Two of these cross-dykes are indentified for the
purpose of scheduling as 20473 and 20474). The four cross-dykes abut, but for
purposes of clarity, they are being defined as four distinct cross-dykes,
three of which are the subject of separate schedulings.
In the bottom of Vessey Pasture Dale, the cross-dyke corresponds with the line
of the modern parish boundary. Throughout its length, a 3m margin has been
included on each side to allow for the survival of below-ground traces of
The metalled surfaces of roads and fences are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath these features is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 3 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.