Prehistoric Henges in Yorkshire and beyond: recent research

Annual joint lecture with YAHS
Dr Alex Gibson
Leeds City Museum
Thornborough henges from the air


Henge monuments are enigmatic circular monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age, approximately 3000 – 1500 BC. They are part of a growing fixation with circularity as witnessed by contemporary circles of stone and wood as well as circular burial monuments. Generally with internal ditches, these monuments are unsuited to defence, none have produced evidence for settlement, and they are presumed (probably correctly) to be sites for the acting of religious or ritual ceremonies. These ritual enclosures vary considerably in size and complexity and their functions are difficult to determine.

Recent research is suggesting that some sites had a long history of use and modification and what we see now is more or less the final stage of a monument that has been visited for several centuries. Some have had timber or stone elements, some occur in groups, some have single entrances, others may have two or four. Some are slight, others, like Avebury, are truly monumental. With the Thornborough Henges now being taken into public ownership, and with recent research and excavation in Wharfedale, this talk will be a journey from Orkney to Wessex and will look at new dating evidence, recent excavations, the reinterpretation of antiquarian records, the possibility of human sacrifice and to what extent the Yorkshire henges fit the emerging national trends.

Image © Google Earth copyright Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky