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3 June 2003
Neolithic henges threatened by quarrying

Fears are growing over a threat to the prehistoric henges at Thornborough, near West Tanfield (England), and there was a massive show of support by the "Friends of Thornborough" who are anxious to protect them. Plans to quarry land close to the henges are a cause for real concern both locally and among the wider archaeological community.
     Dr Jan Harding, of Newcastle University, said that the landscape setting of the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age complex of three henge monuments is as significant as Stonehenge or the prehistoric landscape of Salisbury Plain. He said that nowhere else did three identical henge monuments exist in such a precise configuration, and furthermore, these were just part of a much larger complex of prehistoric monuments which included other henges near Ripon and the Devil's Arrows at Boroughbridge.
     The complex could have been originally constructed by prehistoric people whose religious beliefs had an astronomical dimension, as the archaeologist found a possible relationship between the positioning of the henges and astronomical alignments. It seems that the arrangement of the three henges follows the alignment of Orion's Belt and part of the complex is aligned with the midsummer sunrise.
     Dr Harding said that the Thornborough prehistoric landscape, with its legacy of earthworks, pit alignments, barrows and evidence of settlement provided a rare opportunity to study the religious beliefs, lifestyles and environment of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies.
     Unfortunately, agriculture and quarrying have caused significant damage to much of the prehistoric legacy of the Thornborough landscape, and the latest proposals to take gravel from Thornborough Moor are seen as posing the greatest threat of all. Tarmac Northern, which operates the nearby Nosterfield Quarry, is currently looking to expand the workings, including possible extraction from Thornborough Moor. Dr Harding described this as an "unthinkable" development that would result in the loss of archaeological integrity and landscape amenity by isolating the surviving henge monuments from their setting.
     You can voice your concerns to the following key people:

• The leader of North Yorkshire County Council - Mr Clifford Wilson, Highfield Court Grafton, YORK YO51 9QJ
• Our Member of Parliament - Anne McIntosh MP, House of Commons, SW1A OAA; Tel: 020 7219 3541; Fax: 020 7219 0972
• Tarmac Northern - Tarmac Northern Limited, PO Box 5, Fell Bank, Chester-le-Street, Birtley, Co Durham DH3 2ST
Tel: 0191 4924000; Fax: 0191 4108489; Email: info@tarmac-northern.co.uk
• English Heritage - Dr Simon Surley, Chief Executive, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET
Tel: 020 7973 3000; Email: put for the attention of Dr Simon Surley in the subject line customers@english-heritage.org.uk

Sources: Ripon Today (30 May 2003), Friends of Thornborough (3 June 2003)

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