The Thornborough Henges are an unusual ancient monument complex that includes the three aligned henges that give the site its name. The complex is located near the village of  Thornborough close to the town of Masham in North Yorkshire, England. The complex includes many large ancient structures including a cursus, henges, burial grounds and settlements. 

They are thought to have been part of a Neolithic and Bronze Age ‘ritual landscape comparable to Sailsbury Plain and date from between 3500 and 2500 BC. This monument complex has been called ‘The Stonehenge of the North’. Historic England considers its landscape comparable in ceremonial importance to better known sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury,and Orkney.

The Cursus

The cursus is the oldest and largest ancient monument at Thornborough. It is almost a mile in extent and runs from Thornborough village, under the (later) central henge and terminates close to the River Ure in a broadly east/west alignment.

Cursuses are perhaps the most enigmatic of ancient monuments. They typically comprise two parallel ditches, the larger of which can be a mile or more in extent, cut to create a “cigar-shaped” enclosure. Typically, burial mounds and mortuary enclosures are found alongside cursus monuments, indicating that they probably had a ceremonial function.

 

The Henges

The three henges are almost identical in size and composition, each having a diameter of approximately 240 metres and two large entrances situated directly opposite each other. The henges are located around 550 m apart on an approximate northwest-southeast alignment, although there is a curious ‘dogleg’ in the layout. Altogether, the monument extends for more than a mile.

Archaeological excavation of the central henge has taken place. It has been suggested that its banks were covered with locally mined gypsum. The resulting white sheen would have been striking and visible for miles around. A double alignment of pits, possibly evidence of a timber processional avenue, extends from the southern henge.

The ‘dogleg’ in the layout appears to cause the layout of the henges to mirror the three stars of Orion’s Belt. The exact purpose of the henges is unclear though archaeological finds suggest that they served economic and social purposes as well as astronomical ones.

The Northern henge is currently overgrown with trees but is one of the best preserved henges in Britain. The Central and Southern henges are in poorer condition although the banks of the henges are still quite prominent, especially in the case of the Central henge. To gain a full appreciation of the scale of the monument it is best viewed from the air.

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