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Chapter 1 – Introduction

Chapter 1. Introduction

Around 6,000 years ago, a transformation was taking place across the British countryside. This was the result of dramatic social change, perhaps the first technological revolution – one that was to lay the foundations of modern life and mark the change from a Stone Age hunter-gatherer-based society to one of settled people working the land to provide food and other resources.

Over several thousand years, small pockets of people had realised that some animals and plants could provide better harvest if they were nurtured. These new skills were shared and developed so that by the Neolithic period (3,500 BC) large numbers of the population were settling down to a new lifestyle that was dominated by farming, skilled labour and trade.

At the same time as cutting down large sections of Britain’s ancient forest to create these settlements, the people of Britain also found time to start building what we tend to think of as religious monuments. Of course, with the sparse information that is available, it is often difficult to tell exactly what these structures were for. But most experts tend to agree that for the majority of the larger structures of the period (those that are still today visible) some form of communal religious function is considered as a primary purpose, although this may have not been the only function.

An aerial view of Avebury stone circle and henge. in monochrome, taken shortly after world war two.

Image: Avebury Henge, Wiltshire, Major G. W. G. Allen.

By 3,000 BC, a countrywide trend had emerged that involved people spending a great deal of time building huge communal structures, places that we call “ritual monuments” today. Such places include the great henge at Avebury.

In certain special places, the amount of effort involved in the construction of these

monuments far surpassed anything that could be mustered in the local area. The size of the construction was so great that the “sacred space” that was created could hold representatives from every locality throughout the country.

These especially large monuments tend not to exist in isolation, burial sites tend to cluster round them and often a wider view of the landscape reveals that these great monuments are just a small part of a much greater collection of monuments. The monuments within such complexes often show a relationship with one another. This is widely interpreted as creating a large-scale ritual landscape – marking out large tracts of land set aside as “sacred” areas.

An overhead image of Stonehenge, including it's cursus. In monochrome, taken shortly after world war two.

Image: Part of the Neolithic monument complex at Stonehenge, 1929.

Of the larger monument complexes from our most ancient past, most people in Britain would think of Stonehenge as being possibly the most important of those structures. A smaller number of people who consider themselves more knowledgeable would suggest Avebury or the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkneys. This is only to be expected, for a great deal has been written about them – they are amongst the most studied of our monument complexes and are amongst the most famous landmarks in the world. Each is a recognised area of World Heritage.

But sometimes we impose an incorrect modern view of what is important on people of whom we have little or no comprehension. Often our view of the past is distorted by out of date information or assumptions that have long since been disproved. Within this book, it is suggested that we have been overlooking one of the greatest ritual monument complexes, and that this complex may well be the largest and (by implication) the most important religious structure for the period.

Very few would suggest or have even heard of the monument complex that sits

close to Ripon in North Yorkshire, never mind suggest it being even remotely important. After all, this is a place whose ancient monuments are forgotten by most textbooks. The area is not known as having significant structures from any period until relatively recent times. There have been few TV programmes or books written about the area and as a whole, it has received very little attention by historians and archaeologists alike.

Hopefully, this book should come as a welcome surprise to many people, after hearing for years about Stonehenge and other major monument sites, here we are introducing a new monument complex and at the same time claiming it as being possibly Britain’s most important.

The arguments contained in this book hopefully should be understandable by most people. The book is written assuming little prior knowledge and avoids the use of technical terms. The evidence provided is physically verifiable and easily available.

Could it be that our understanding of ancient Britain has been so wrong as to ignore such an important site? Somehow we have overlooked a site that may be the key to the structure of Britain five millennia ago.

Image: Vale of Mowbray – North Yorkshire

close to Ripon in North Yorkshire, never mind suggest it being even remotely important. After all, this is a place whose ancient monuments are forgotten by most textbooks. The area is not known as having significant structures from any period until relatively recent times. There have been few TV programmes or books written about the area and as a whole, it has received very little attention by historians and archaeologists alike.

Hopefully, this book should come as a welcome surprise to many people, after hearing for years about Stonehenge and other major monument sites, here we are introducing a new monument complex and at the same time claiming it as being possibly Britain’s most important.

The arguments contained in this book hopefully should be understandable by most people. The book is written assuming little prior knowledge and avoids the use of technical terms. The evidence provided is physically verifiable and easily available.

Could it be that our understanding of ancient Britain has been so wrong as to ignore such an important site? Somehow we have overlooked a site that may be the key to the structure of Britain five millennia ago.

Image: Vale of Mowbray – North Yorkshire

The above image shows the location map for the Vale of Mowbray, in North Yorkshire. Situated here is the largest formation of henges in Britain, comprising only giant ancient monuments – amongst the largest of their type in Britain.

In this book, we will have a close look at a unique complex of ancient ritual structures – the ritual monuments of the Vale of Mowbray. I propose that we should look at these monuments as being of singular importance while they were built, and lay out some obvious and straightforward reasons for considering this. Whilst we can never go back to that time to find the truth, and the evidence left to us is flimsy and open to interpretation, I suggest within this book that there are strong reasons to consider the Vale of Mowbray as being a highly important complex of monuments, and within this, the triple henges that form the Thornborough Henges; possibly Britain’s largest ritual site.

An image of Stonehenge, taken shortly after the second world war.

Image: Stonehenge, Wiltshire. C.1932.

An overhead image of Scorton Neolithic Cursus, taken shortly after the second world war.

Image: Scorton Cursus, North Yorkshire. English Heritage

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