Embanked pit alignments, linear earthworks, round barrows and cairns on Ebberston Low Moor
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019601
Date first listed: 04-Jun-1969
Date of most recent amendment: 24-Oct-2000
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: North Yorkshire
District: Ryedale (District Authority)
Parish: Ebberston and Yedingham
National Park: NORTH YORK MOORS
National Grid Reference: SE 90485 89752
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Pit alignments are linear boundaries that were mainly constructed in the Bronze Age up until the Middle Iron Age (1700 - 400BC), although a few examples dated to both the late Neolithic (2500 - 1700BC) and the Roman period (50 - 410AD) are also known. In England, nearly all pit alignments have been discovered through aerial photography as crop or soil mark sites, those surviving as earthworks are almost totally unknown. They typically consist of a line, a few metres to several kilometres long, of regularly spaced and fairly uniformly shaped pits. Alignments with a double line of pits are also known. Where excavated the pits have been found to be round, oval or rectangular in plan and up to about 3m across and 1.4m deep. They were not used as post holes and it has usually been shown that they were left to silt up naturally with no evidence of recutting. The very small number of surviving earthwork examples, which have been identified in Scotland and on the North York Moors, retain a low bank on one or both sides of the alignment. Some soil mark sites also retain hints of flanking banks although on most excavated sites, the nature of the siting in the pits suggest that they were not embanked. Pit alignments are one of a range of prehistoric boundary features which divided up the landscape into territorial units. They are thought to have been designed to mark boundaries in a way to still allow the easy passage of people or livestock. Round barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, covering single or multiple burials. They occur in isolation or grouped into cemeteries and often acted as a focus for later burials. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and burial practices. Often occupying prominent positions, their variation in form and longevity as a monument type provide important information about the diversity of beliefs and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communities. The pit alignments on Ebberston Low Moor are the first to be identified in England with surviving upstanding earthworks, large sections of which are exceptionally well-preserved. Their importance is heightened still further by the survival of a round barrow which clearly overlies one of the alignments. Together with the buried remains of a second barrow, and other associated features, the monument provides an unique insight into early pit alignment boundaries.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes earthwork and associated buried remains of a complex of
six prehistoric boundaries, four of which are in the form of linear alignments
of pits flanked by banks, a small group of cairns, and two burial mounds, one
surviving as an earthwork, the other as buried remains. These prehistoric
features all lie on Ebberston Low Moor to the north and east of Ebberston
Common House. Further prehistoric boundaries and round barrows, forming
separate schedulings, lie within the surrounding area. The pit alignments were
first noted by G Young in 1817 and were described by J R Mortimer in 1895. In
early 1999 they were surveyed in detail by the Royal Commission on the
Historical Monuments of England and the results published in a report,
`Prehistoric embanked pit-alignments on Ebberston Low Moor, Ryedale, North
Yorkshire', English Heritage 1999.
The monument straddles the watershed between Deep Dale to the north east and
the Long Grain Valley to the south which feeds into the head of Trouts Dale.
The monument lies across a number of fields which have different land use
histories which have affected the survival of the prehistoric features. Some
areas are exceptionally well preserved, whereas a small proportion survive as
buried remains with no upstanding earthworks. The 1999 survey report records
the level of survival across the monument in detail.
The six embanked pit alignments all appear to converge on an area of
post-medieval quarrying just over 700m to the north east of Ebberston Common
House. Three (referred to from east to west as embanked pit alignment (EPA 1,
2 and 4 in the report) run approximately parallel to each other, SSW to NNE
for around 600m, before converging with a pit alignment (EPA 3) that runs just
over 250m eastwards and with two pit alignments (EPA 5 and 6) which run for
short distances northwards. The survey also identified a very short length of
a seventh pit alignment which is now considered to be the northern end of EPA
4. Only the more prominent sections of EPA 1, 2 and 3 are depicted on the
Ordnance Survey 1:10,000 map.
EPA 1 survives as a surface earthwork for nearly 600m and follows a smoothly
curved elongated and reversed `S'-shaped course. It is the eastern most
earthwork shown on the map. The best preserved sections show it to have been a
double banked earthwork, with a line of deep sub-rectangular pits each
typically 2.5m-2.8m long and 1.4m-1.6m wide. They are very regularly spaced
with 3.5m between pit centres. All of the pits will contain infilled deposits.
The deepest open pits are now 0.5m-0.9m deep suggesting that they were
originally over 1m deep when first constructed. The flanking banks are not
symmetrical. The eastern bank appears to have been the more substantial, the
best preserved sections being up to 4m wide and 0.4m high with a rounded
profile. The western bank is generally flatter, around 3m wide and 0.2m high.
At the southern end of the pit alignment, the earthwork fades out at a crest
above the head of the Long Grain valley and may possibly have originally
continued further, later obscured by agricultural activity. The northern end
of EPA 1 is clearly overlain by EPA 2 which is thus later in date.
EPA 2 is approximately 725m long and survives as an upstanding earthwork for
most of its length. It is the earthwork shown on the map running through the
centre of the monument. It is more erratic in its course and has greater
variability in earthwork form over its length than EPA 1. It runs
approximately parallel and 80m-110m west of EPA 1 for just over 500m before
starting to converge with this pit alignment and then, for the northern 80m,
overlying its line. The southern end of the pit alignment also fades out on
the slope above the head of the Long Grain valley, but is not thought to have
originally continued further. The best preserved sections are a 310m length
towards the centre of the pit alignment and the northern 155m section. The
central section survives as a ditch with a line of pits cut into its base and
a bank on either side. The ditch is typically 3m wide and 0.3m-0.4m deep. The
pits are irregularly shaped and spaced, 2m-3.5m between pit centres, and no
more than 0.3m deep, although five have developed into deeper sink holes into
the underlying natural limestone. Like EPA 1, the eastern bank is the more
substantial, 3.5m-5m wide and up to 0.3m high with a rounded profile. However
it appears to have two possible original broad gaps through it. The western
bank is unlike any of the other banks within the monument. It is segmented
rather than being continuous, each length ranging between 6m and 22m long and
2.5m-3.5m wide, standing no more than 0.1m high with flattened tops. Each
segment is divided from the next by a gap ranging between 2m and 13m wide.
Towards the northern end of the pit alignment the western bank becomes
continuous. Where EPA 2 follows and overlies the line of EPA 1, the flanking
banks take on an undulated appearance. This is thought to have been caused by
spoil from the removal of the baulks between the pits of EPA 1 being spread in
low mounds on the tops of the flanking banks. The ditch between the banks
along this section is up to 0.5m deep with just the bases of regularly spaced
pits showing in the bottom.
Following a sinuous course roughly parallel to and 80m-120m west of EPA 2 is a
third SSW to NNE embanked pit alignment, referred to as EPA 4 in the report.
This has not been previously mapped and was first identified by the 1999
survey. It survives as a surface earthwork for just over 310m. The projected
northern 400m section is considered to survive as an infilled and buried
feature, part of its length observable as a soil mark. This section is also
included within the monument. The southern end of the pit alignment is thought
to have been overlain by Ebberston Common House and the associated farm
buildings, but is not included in the monument. The best preserved sections of
EPA 4 show it to have a largely infilled 3m-4m wide ditch now up to 0.3m deep
with shallow oval pits typically 2.5m by 1.8m along its base. These appear to
be regularly spaced, 3m between pit centres. Either side of the ditch are
flanking banks around 3m wide and up to 0.2m-0.3m high.
The east-west dyke (EPA 3) at the northern end of the monument runs from the
northern end of EPA 1 and 2 downhill eastwards for just over 230m into a steep
sided valley which leads into Deep Dale to the north. On the opposite side of
this valley to the east, is the northern end of Snainton Dykes, another
prehistoric boundary monument that is the subject of a separate scheduling.
The best preserved section of this alignment, to the east, is very similar in
form to the northern end of EPA 2 in that it is formed with a central ditch
with the remains of a line of pits in its base, flanked by banks topped by
small mounds of spoil. It is thought that EPA 3 was originally a continuation
of EPA 1 with regularly spaced pits flanked by continuous banks, but then it
was subsequently re-cut, removing most of the material of the baulks between
pits as a continuation of EPA 2. Approximately half way along its length and
marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:10,000 map is a round barrow. This was
previously scheduled as a round cairn and is a burial mound in a form typical
of those of Bronze Age date. It is 20m in diameter and up to 1.3m high with a
flat top showing some signs of excavation in the past. It is built on an
artificial platform which extends up to 7m beyond the base of the barrow and
is cut into the gentle east facing slope. This platform and the barrow are
both clearly later in date to the pit alignment, cutting the southern bank and
overlying part of the line of pits.
Extending north of the western end of EPA 3 there are two short linear
earthworks referred to as EPA 5 and 6 in the report. EPA 5 is a 70m long bank
and ditch which runs northwards along an east facing slope. The ditch varies
in width between 1.5m and 4m with an intermittent 3m wide and 0.3m high bank
on its eastern, downhill side. Its southern end curves eastwards and appears
to line up with the western end of EPA 3. To the north it ends abruptly at the
head of a valley leading into Deep Dale. Immediately to the east is EPA 6.
This is a ditch flanked by low banks which also runs northwards, but is
truncated after 30m by a set of hollow ways. The ditch is 3m wide and 0.3m
deep, the western bank, which appears to partly overlie the bank of EPA 5, is
2.5m to 4m wide and 0.2m-0.3m high and the eastern bank is about 3m wide and
Approximately half way along the length of EPA 1, centred about 20m to the
east of the alignment, there are the buried remains of another round barrow
which no longer survives as an upstanding earthwork. Excavation has shown that
the primary burial was frequently located in a pit beneath the covering mound,
and that archaeological remains of this together with those of an infilled
ditch surrounding the barrow frequently survive, even when the covering mound
has been levelled by ploughing. The area of this barrow is thus also included
in the monument. Between EPA 1 and 2 there is a group of four small cairns
that survive as low earthworks. The areas between EPA 1, 2 and 4 are
considered to retain buried remains of other archaeological features related
to the pit alignments and so these areas are also included within the
All fence and gate posts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground
beneath these features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 34698
Legacy System: RSM
Typescript survey report, English Heritage Archaeological Field Survey, Prehistoric embanked pit alignments on Ebberston Low Moor, (1999)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing