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Thornborough Henges complex, Thornborough, North Yorkshire, England

The Sacred Prehistoric Neolithic Complex of the Thornborough Henges

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The Thornborough Henges are considered one of the most important ancient sites in Britain.  Consisting of a  triple henge alignment, it is a complex of three circular mounds with ditches and banks that was once part of a larger Neolithic landscape in use for over a thousand years. Historians believe this man-made, prehistoric structure had an astronomical significance and was purposely built to mirror the stars of Orion. Often called the ‘Stonehenge of the North,’ it is the largest ritual religious site on the British Isles.

Description of the Thornborough Henges

The Thornborough Henges are located near the village of Thornborough, in North Yorkshire, England and are thought to be between 5,000 and 6,000 years old.. 

They are part of an area known as the Vale of Mowbray which is a location known for its concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments. There are no less than six giant henges, all almost identical in size and design, located within 10km (6.2 miles) of one other.

The design of the henges sets Thornborough apart from later Neolithic complexes. It is the world's only triple henge complex and the three henges follow the same off-centre alignment seen at other triple-circles across England.

The length of the entire henge is approximately a mile (1.6km) long with two large entrances situated directly opposite one other.

Thornborough Henges, Thornborough, North Yorkshire, England

Thornborough Henges, Thornborough, North Yorkshire, England (Council for British Archaeology)

All three of the Thornborough Henges have two entrances which are aligned, like the henge alignment itself, Northwest to Southeast, and laid out at approximately intervals, 550m (601 yards) apart.  All are of similar size and shape, have a diameter between 240 and 275 meters (787-902 ft), and stand some 3 meters (9 ft) in height. 

The Northern henge is currently overgrown but is perhaps the best preserved of the three.  Covered by a small plantation of trees, it has a high bank with deep ditches and two entrances.  The southernmost of the three mounds had been damaged but is still recognizable as a henge structure.

The Cursus Monument

The banks of the central henge have also been damaged with little trace of the interior ditch left. The central henge lies on top of an earlier, Neolithic cursus monument. Cursus are large parallel banks that have been marked using stones or ditches and are among the oldest monumental structures of the British Isles.

Central Thornborough Henge, Thornborough, North Yorkshire, England

Central Thornborough Henge, Thornborough, North Yorkshire, England (BBC)

The fact that Thornborough was built over pre-existing Cursus suggests that it was an important ritual site to the Neolithic residents who lived there.

Drawing of the Thornborough Henges and cursus

Drawing of the Thornborough Henges and cursus (Megalithix)

Some think that Thornborough may have been a pilgrimage centre where people sought spiritual salvation and that it served an economic, social as well as an astronomical purpose. 

While it is unknown what kind of rituals were performed at Thornborough, the banks of the henges were coated in a brilliant white layer of gypsum or gypsum crystal (according to archaeological excavations that have been done at the central henge), which would have made the site visible for miles. Today the cursus are no longer visible above ground due to the continuous quarrying around the site.


Gypsum (Wikimedia Commons)

Thornborough's Alignment with Orion

The Thornborough Henges are unusual in that the structure is in alignment with a well known constellation in the night sky. The lines joining the henges do not form a straight line but instead were intentionally shaped like a “dog leg” to reflect the stars of Orion’s belt. 

This same astronomical alignment can be found at the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the pyramids of Teotihuacan, the pyramids of Xian, and also at the sites of the Hopi tribe in Arizona.

The alignment of the Thornborough Henges with Orion

The alignment of the Thornborough Henges with Orion (Mysteriesman)

It is thought that the three Henges at Thornborough were constructed between 4000 and 3000 BC and the BBC makes note of the fact that Thornborough " may have been the first monument in the world aligned to Orion, predating the pyramids by 1,000 years.” 

The structure was aligned so its western end pointed towards the mid-winter setting of Orion which also meant that the eastern end aligned towards the midsummer solstice.

The southern entrances framed the rising of the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, and was also aligned on the midwinter solstice.

The Thornborough Henges Today

With its huge banks, the scale and work that went into constructing the Thornborough henges, can be appreciated from the air as well as on the ground. 

It brings out curiosity and wonder as we try to imagine how our ancestors might have lived and their fascination with one particular star system. The arrangement of the three circles must have held some kind of purpose and meaning to them which thousands of years later, is still incredibly difficult to ascertain.

Today, all three of the Thornborough Henges, as well as the land connecting them together, are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Since the land is privately owned, there is no official public access to the site and because of this the site does not receive a steady amount of visitors throughout the year. However, recently Tarmac Northern Ltd., the owner of the property, has been in negotiations to transfer the monument to public ownership in return for extended quarrying rights.

Since 2004, there has been an opportunity for the public to visit the central henge and attend the celebration of the pagan festival of Beltane (For more information about this annual Celtic fire festival see this site). And in September 2017 Pagans also celebrated the Autumn Equinox, which they call Mabon or Harvest Home, at the henge.

Festival at Thornborough Henges, 2013

Festival at Thornborough Henges, 2013 (Public Domain)

While it is thought that there were once many other “super-henges” in Yorkshire, the only other known locations are further south in England, at Dorchester-on-Thames, along with another, slightly different version in Northern Ireland. Who knows how many others could lie hidden or have simply disappeared with the passage of time…

Top Image: Thornborough Henges complex, Thornborough, North Yorkshire, England (Wikimedia Commons)

By Bryan Hill


"Welcome to the Neolithic Monument Complex of Thornborough, North Yorkshire." Welcome to the Neolithic Monument Complex of Thornborough, North Yorkshire.

"Thornborough, England." Thornborough, England.

"Thornborough Henges." Thornborough Henges.

"Thornborough Henges - Northeast of West Tanfield, North Yorkshire." Thornborough Henges - Northeast of West Tanfield, North Yorkshire.

"Thornborough Henges." BBC News.

Butler, Alan. How to Read Prehistoric Monuments: A Unique Guide to Our Ancient Heritage. 2011.

Ancient Aliens: Season 3. USA: History Channel, 2012. DVD.

"Thornborough Henges." YouTube. September 30, 2006.



Furans, should read Cursus!

Many thanks for writing this informative article.

Had the pleasure of visiting Thornborough last week. Wasn't aware of the existence of the furans until now. I reside in Lytham & nearby is St Annes on Sea. The main street is St Annes Road West, known locally as the 'Square'. At the western end of which is St Annes Pier. A semi derelict Edwardian pier. The interesting phenomenon of the Square is that on the winter solstice the sun sets directly over the pier.

Using Google earth I once drew a line from St Annes Road West to Whitby Abbey on the North East coast of England - the line passed over the central henge at Thornborough. Imagine my more recent surprise to find that this alignment coincides with the Cursus!

Justbod's picture

Many thanks for writing this article – the Thornborough Henges deserve to be better known and articles like this raise awareness.

Enjoyed reading reading it too – thank you again.

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature:



Bryan Hill's picture


Bryan graduated with a Bachelor of Art in History from Suffolk University and has a background in museum volunteering and as well as working with children’s groups at the Museum of Science and the National Park Service.  He has traveled... Read More

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