Thornborough Henges National Mapping Programme
The Thornborough Henges National Mapping Programme (NMP) project mapped and recorded archaeology from aerial photographs. West Yorkshire Archaeology Service (WYAS) were partners in the project.
It was funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF). An area of 100 square kilometres within North Yorkshire was covered, a landscape which is under pressure from aggregates extraction. The project was carried out to inform English Heritage’s Conservation Plan for the setting of the henges.
Archaeological and geographical context
The Thornborough henge complex comprises three Neolithic Class II henges. They are located on the low lying gravels on the northern bank of the River Ure.
The area has increasingly come under pressure from large scale gravel extraction. At the time of the project, a planning application had been submitted which 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. Dr Jan Harding (University of Newcastle) has undertaken research-led work on the wider landscape.
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 has been largely flattened and is mainly visible only as a cropmark. An earlier cursus underlies the central henge and has partially been destroyed by gravel extraction.
However, the cropmarks of the cursus in these areas were mapped from historic photography taken before the quarrying took place.
Although the levelling of the southern henge severely reduced the earthworks, the resulting cropmarks revealed details about the henge’s construction.
The inner ditch was either re-dug or replaced an earlier feature and a possible scoop was visible 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. There were also pit alignments with stone packing of the pits visible as a cropmark.
The NMP mapping has also placed the henges in their broader landscape over time. Other features mapped have related to the Bronze Age ritual landscape, Iron Age / Roman land division and settlement, and 20th century military activities.
The images used on this page are copyright Historic England 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 Historic England Archive.
For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.