Experts Voice Fears Over Gravel Extraction At Unique Henge Site

By David Prudames | 02 September 2003
Shows a black and white aerial photograph of the area of Thornborough Henges - the three circular monuments run diagonally from top left to bottom right.

Photo: Courtesy Friends of Thornborough Henges.

Archaeologists and local campaigners have expressed their concern at the possibility of further gravel extraction close to the Neolithic complex of henges at Thornborough in Yorkshire.

Comprised of three linked henge monuments, the 5000-year-old site is believed by archaeologists to be among the most important prehistoric sites in the country.

A spokesperson for Tarmac, which is already quarrying in areas around the henges, told the 24 Hour Museum there are two potential planning applications for the surrounding area under discussion.

Dr Jan Harding, of Newcastle University, has been excavating and studying the site since 1994 and explained to the 24 Hour Museum just how significant it is.

"In a nut shell, it is a unique monument complex, there is no parallel," said Dr Harding.

"You have three of these henge monuments on a shared axis and if you think of them in terms of vast labour, it is probably the largest in the country."

Shows an aerial photograph of the three Thornborough Henges.

Photo: Courtesy Friends of Thornborough Henges.

While the henges themselves are Scheduled Ancient Monuments and therefore protected by law, there is already quarrying to the north and at nearby Nosterfield.

It is the potential for further gravel extraction and damage to the wider archaeological context of the henges that objectors are most worried about.

"There is a great deal going on in the surrounding landscape and what this means is that if you want to understand the monuments you have to understand the landscape setting and their relationship with other sites, which are contemporary or even older," said Dr Harding.

Furthermore, as Dr Harding pointed out, there is the issue of 'ownership' of the site. "It isn't only an archaeological resource," he said, "but is for the public and no-one's going to come to the monuments when they are surrounded by gravel extraction."

A spokesperson for English Heritage, which is supporting Dr Harding's work underlined the organisation's position on the issue.

"Until Dr Harding's work is completed, and the archaeological value of the landscape adjacent to the scheduled henges is better understood, English Heritage is firmly opposed to any further gravel extraction in the vicinity of the scheduled site."

Shows a graphic of an aerial map showing the site in 1850.

Image: Courtesy Friends of Thornborough Henges.

Local campaign group the Friends of Thornborough Henges is vehemently opposed to any further extraction, but as North Yorkshire County Archaeologist, Neil Campling pointed out, no official planning application has been made and any objections would be premature.

A Tarmac spokesperson revealed that the organisation is planning to enlarge the area of Nosterfield Quarry in two areas. Firstly, a 40 hectare extension at Ladybridge Farm and secondly a 100 hectare extension into an area known as Thornborough Moor.

The second extension is not planned to take place for a number of years and as such the company is currently finalising impact reports for it.

"The Thornborough Henge site is an important site of archaeological interest and we believe that in Tarmac's care it is in safe hands," said the spokesperson.

"We are actively consulting with all the local statutory authorities, local communities and other interested parties to ensure the henges are conserved for the enjoyment of special interest groups and the local community."

"There are no plans to dig up or destroy the henges and we plan to restore the site in consultation with archaeological experts and provide a visitor centre."

To find out more about the Friends of Thornborough Henges, click on this link to visit their website.

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