Skell Dikes: a prehistoric linear boundary with two associated round barrows and an adjoining pit alignment
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021238
Date first listed: 05-Aug-1933
Date of most recent amendment: 03-Sep-2004
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: North Yorkshire
District: Scarborough (District Authority)
Parish: East Ayton
National Park: NORTH YORK MOORS
National Grid Reference: SE 99312 87178
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or
multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between
less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features
visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The
evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that
their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although
they may have been reused later.
The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were
constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries
in the landscape; their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of
their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious
associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those
groups who constructed them. Linear earthworks are of considerable importance
for the analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age; all well-
preserved examples will normally merit statutory protection.
A pit alignment is a linear arrangement of fairly closely-spaced circular or rectangular holes or pits over 1m in diameter. Some examples are several kilometres long and some occur as part of a more complex linear earthwork including linear ditches, slots, palisades and linear banks. Once dug, the pits were left open as features which eroded and silted up over a period of time. Nearly all pit alignments have been discovered from aerial photography and survive as cropmarks or soilmarks. They are largely found in river valleys in central and northern England, but they are also common on the Yorkshire Wolds and are found in smaller numbers on other light, freely-draining soils. Pit alignments probably formed boundaries. Where excavated, they usually appear to be prehistoric in date, although examples are also known from the Roman period. All examples surviving as earthworks are considered to merit protection.
On the North York Moors several pit alignments have been identified with surviving earthworks. These examples have been found to have a low bank on either side of the line of pits and have been termed embanked pit alignments. Round barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period 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, which covered single or multiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus for burials in later periods. Often superficially similar, although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a diversity of burial practices. There are over 10,000 surviving examples recorded nationally (many more have already been destroyed), occurring across most of Britain, including the Wessex area where it is often possible to classify them more closely, for example as bowl or bell barrows. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and their considerable variation of form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of protection.
Despite limited disturbance, Skell Dikes has survived well. Important environmental evidence which can be used to date the boundary and determine contemporary land use will be preserved within the lowest ditch fills. Evidence for earlier land use will be preserved in the old ground surface beneath the banks. Although the pit alignment has been levelled, the lowest pit fills will preserve valuable evidence for its form and date, and the nature of the enclosure defined by it. Similar pit alignments on the Tabular Hills further to the west have been identified through survey work as the earliest prehistoric boundaries in this area. Consequently, the relationships between the pit alignment and Skell Dikes, and with both the round barrow adjacent to it and other burial monuments in the landscape surrounding the monument are important for understanding the chronological development of land division during the later prehistoric period. The form of this pit alignment, defining an enclosure, is very rare and unique in the North York Moors area, and hence it has considerable importance as an example of the variability of prehistoric enclosure.
Skell Dikes belong to a network of prehistoric boundaries, dividing the area to the south of the scarp edge of the Tabular Hills, between their eastern limit and Forge Valley in the west. It is thought to represent a system of territorial land division which was constructed to augment natural divisions of the landscape by river valleys and watersheds and it is one of many such groups found on the Tabular Hills. This network of boundaries lies within a concentration of prehistoric monuments which also includes many burial and ritual monuments. Networks and associations such as these offer important scope for the study of land use for social, ritual and agricultural purposes during the prehistoric period.
Although the two barrows have been partly excavated and altered by agricultural activity, they still retain significant archaeological deposits. The barrow adjacent to Skell Dikes is still visible as a mound and will retain further evidence of the structure of the mound, the burials placed within it and the surrounding ditch. Significant information about the original form of the barrow adjacent to the pit alignment enclosure and the burials placed within it will also be preserved. The barrows lie within a wider grouping of many burial and ritual monuments. Such groups provide important insight into the development of ritual and funerary practice during the Bronze Age.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a prehistoric linear boundary, known as Skell Dikes,
which is situated close to the northern scarp edge of the Tabular Hills at
their eastern limit. Also included are a pit alignment enclosure, which
defines an enclosure appended to Skell Dikes, and two round barrows, one
of them adjacent to Skell Dikes and the other adjacent to the pit
Skell Dikes is aligned north-south on East Ayton Moor. It includes two ditches and two outer banks. The depth from the top of the banks to the bottom of the ditch is 2.4m, each ditch is 5m wide, while the monument as a whole has a width of 24.3m. The earthwork is best preserved towards its northern end where it reaches Raincliffe Woods. The northern end runs 20m down the valley side before ending at what appears to be an original terminal. South of the modern lane which crosses the southern end of the Dikes the earthwork is no longer visible as an upstanding earthwork but it is visible on aerial photographs. This dyke is one of a group on the moor.
The pit alignment is appended to the east side of Skell Dikes in the centre. It forms the boundary of a D-shaped enclosure which measures approximately 255m internally from east to west and a maximum of about 150m from north to south. The enclosure boundary has a line of pits set within a ditch which is marked on early editions of the Ordnance Survey maps. Although modern agriculture has levelled this enclosure so that there are no visible earthwork remains, the pit alignment forming its boundary survives as subsoil features which are visible as soil and crop marks on aerial photographs. By analogy with similar pit alignments further to the west on the Tabular Hills, this alignment is thought originally to have had a pair of flanking banks which would have given the enclosure boundary an overall maximum width of 10m. The first round barrow lies close to the western side of Skell Dikes, near to its northern end. The barrow mound is 0.3m high and 32m in diameter. Although no longer visible at ground level, a ditch, from which material was excavated during the construction of the monument, surrounds the barrow mound. This has become infilled over the years but survives as a buried feature 4m wide. The barrow was partly excavated by T L Gwatkin and the Scarborough Philosophical and Archaeological Society. The barrow mound contained a partly cremated skeleton, accompanied by a small pot, and a group of cremations with seven urns, two of which contained cremated human remains.
The second round barrow lies within the pit alignment enclosure, immediately adjacent to its northern boundary. It is visible as a mound of earth, boulders and stone. This mound is 1.5m high and is now oblong in shape with dimensions of 20m north-south and 18m east-west. Originally it would have been circular. Its present shape is the product of former ploughing, which has modified the original shape. Although no longer visible at ground level, a ditch, from which material was excavated during the construction of the monument, surrounds the barrow mound. This has become infilled over the years but survives as a buried feature 3m wide. The barrow was dug into by rabbit catchers in 1955, who found fragments of pottery. Local archaeologists followed up these diggings with further investigations, and recovered fragments from two Bronze Age urns.
The monument belongs to a network of prehistoric boundaries which is surrounded by many other prehistoric monuments, especially burial and ritual monuments. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the surface of the east-west track crossing Skell Dikes, all fence posts along modern field boundaries crossing and running along the monument and the field boundary wall crossing the northern end of Skell Dikes. The ground beneath all these features is, however included in the scheduling.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 35905
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Smith, M J B, Excavated Bronze Age Burial Mounds of Durham and N' land., (1994), 144-146
Spratt, D A, Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills: North East Yorkshire, (1989), 60-64
Spratt, D A, Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills: North East Yorkshire, (1989), 60-62
Rutter, J G, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Soc' in A Survey Of Linear Earthworks And Associated Enclosures In NE, , Vol. 2: 13, (1970), 17-19
NYMNP, AF/95C/379 run 21 7522-23, (1995)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1st Edition 6" sheet 93 Source Date: 1854 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 2nd Edition 25" sheet 93/3 Source Date: 1928 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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