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 Location: Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.  Grid Reference: 51 39' 11.01" N, 1 10' 23.11" W.

 

 Dorchester big-rings.     Dorchester Big Rings: (Henge complex).

The Henge monument to the north of Dorchester, known locally as the "big rings", was sadly lost to aggregate extraction in the 1970s. (Not too dissimilar to what is happening at Thornborough today). Sadly, all that remains today is a crop-mark.

The Henge and associated monuments were built over an existing Cursus monument, something found at other sites such as Thornborough and Stonehenge (which has the same circumference). 

(Ground-plan of Dorchester Henge and Cursus)

 

 

  The Dorchester 'Big-Rings':

The 'Big rings Henge monument at Dorchester on Thames, was part of a complex of Neolithic and later monuments clustered around the Cursus (SU 59 NE 5), and designated as site XIII within the complex. First recognised as a crop-mark in 1927, some trenching was undertaken in 1951-2 (including complete excavation of sites XII and XIV). The excavations focused on the northern part of the site, but included examination of the southern entrance.

The site comprises two concentric ditch circuits, with roughly opposed entrances to the north-northwest and south-southeast. The outer ditch has a maximum diameter of 193 metres, the inner of 125 metres. Few finds came from the outer ditch - some flints, plus a few Iron Age sherds. The inner ditch was a little more productive. Finds from primary contexts included Beaker sherds, struck flints and animal bones. Possible Peterborough Ware and Collared Urn sherds were also present in the ditch fill. A pit beside the north entrance dug into the inner ditch contained Beaker and Iron Age sherds. The ditch fills suggest the former presence of a bank between the ditches, and traces were found during excavations in this area. A pit beneath the bank material appears to have held a post. Features in the entrance areas may be related to restricting access or blocking but are of uncertain date. Very little was found in the interior area excavated. Site XIV was located between the inner and outer ditch circuits near the south entrance, while Site XII was located just outside the north entrance. Much of the area has since been destroyed by gravel extraction. (1)

 

 

  The Dorchester Cursus:

A Neolithic Cursus at Dorchester on Thames, largely known as crop-marks and partly excavated in 1947-52 and 1981. Much of its course has been destroyed by gravel quarrying and the construction of the Dorchester bypass. It comprised two broadly parallel ditches circa 60 metres apart, running for at least 1600 metres in a more-or-less northwest-southeast direction. The Cursus and its associated complex of monuments (see associated records) run across the neck of a strip of land defined by a bend in the River Thames and a tributary, the Thame. No northwest terminal has been identified, while at the southeast end, there appears to have been no formal terminal. Instead, the Cursus incorporated an earlier D-Shaped enclosure ("Site 1" - SU 59 SE 163). Several interruptions of varying lengths are visible along both ditches of the Cursus. The cursus also changes direction slightly along its course. The north ditch changes alignment once and the south ditch twice, although these changes in direction do not coincide. In addition to Site 1, the cursus is also pre-dated by the long enclosure known as SIte VIII (SU 59 NE 4). The southern Cursus actually cuts across this enclosure, the Cursus ditch passing through the enclosure's southeast entrance causeway (at which point the Cursus ditch is also interrupted by a causeway). The best dating evidence for the Cursus comes from this area. A polished flint axe came from the primary fill, a lozenge shaped flint arrowhead came from the bottom of the secondary silting, and sherds of both Ebbsfleet Ware and Beaker were reported from the upper fills. An antler from the primary fill has been dated to 3380-2920 BC (calibrated), though whether this genuinely dates the Cursus construction is open to debate. However, dating evidence recovered from earlier and later monuments in the complex supports a broad 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC date, in line with Cursus monuments generally. (2)

The Dorchester-on-Thames Cursus was aligned on the midwinter sunrise and would have been recognised as an important ceremonial site for several hundreds of years. (3).

(More about Cursus)

 

Alignments and Geodesy:

Christopher Knight and Alan Butler have suggested that there may also be evidence of use of a 366 division of the globe in prehistoric times. (4) Their evidence shows that both Thornborough and Stonehenge share similar dimensions which appear to be based on circumferences of units of exactly 366 megalithic yards. The now completely destroyed Dorchester-on-Thames Henge once shared the exact same circumference of 366 MY with the original 'Henge' at Stonehenge = 1 MY per Meg degree of horizon.

 Both the Dorchester cursus and henge were both built directly on the path of the St. Michael's Ley.

 

 

What's Happening Today.?

Oxford County Council still has an ongoing gravel extraction plan which threatens to eliminate every trace of this rich Neolithic landscape:

http://www.pagecampaign.org/

 

(Other Henges)     (Other Cursus)

(St. Michael's Leyline)

(Prehistoric English Geodesy)

 

(Other Prehistoric English sites)

 

 

 

References:

1). http://www.pastscape.org/hob.aspx?hob_id=237825
2). http://www.pastscape.org/hob.aspx?hob_id=237829
3). Bradley, R, and Chambers, R, 1988 A new study of the cursus complex at Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxford J Archaeol 7, 271-89
4). C. Knight; A. Butler. Before The Pyramids. 2009. Watkins Publishing.

 

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