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Skell Dikes: a prehistoric linear boundary with two associated round barrows and an adjoining pit alignment

A Scheduled Monument in West Ayton, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.271 / 54°16'15"N

Longitude: -0.4773 / 0°28'38"W

OS Eastings: 499258.291711

OS Northings: 487221.101782

OS Grid: SE992872

Mapcode National: GBR TM31.GQ

Mapcode Global: WHGBZ.MXX4

Entry Name: Skell Dikes: a prehistoric linear boundary with two associated round barrows and an adjoining pit alignment

Scheduled Date: 5 August 1933

Last Amended: 3 September 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021238

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35905

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: West Ayton

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: East Ayton St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes a prehistoric linear boundary, known as Skell Dikes,
which is situated close to the northern scarp edge of the Tabular Hills at
their eastern limit. Also included are a pit alignment enclosure, which
defines an enclosure appended to Skell Dikes, and two round barrows, one
of them adjacent to Skell Dikes and the other adjacent to the pit

Skell Dikes is aligned north-south on East Ayton Moor. It includes two
ditches and two outer banks. The depth from the top of the banks to the
bottom of the ditch is 2.4m, each ditch is 5m wide, while the monument as
a whole has a width of 24.3m. The earthwork is best preserved towards its
northern end where it reaches Raincliffe Woods. The northern end runs 20m
down the valley side before ending at what appears to be an original
terminal. South of the modern lane which crosses the southern end of the
Dikes the earthwork is no longer visible as an upstanding earthwork but it
is visible on aerial photographs. This dyke is one of a group on the

The pit alignment is appended to the east side of Skell Dikes in the
centre. It forms the boundary of a D-shaped enclosure which measures
approximately 255m internally from east to west and a maximum of about
150m from north to south. The enclosure boundary has a line of pits set
within a ditch which is marked on early editions of the Ordnance Survey
maps. Although modern agriculture has levelled this enclosure so that
there are no visible earthwork remains, the pit alignment forming its
boundary survives as subsoil features which are visible as soil and crop
marks on aerial photographs. By analogy with similar pit alignments
further to the west on the Tabular Hills, this alignment is thought
originally to have had a pair of flanking banks which would have given the
enclosure boundary an overall maximum width of 10m. The first round
barrow lies close to the western side of Skell Dikes, near to its northern
end. The barrow mound is 0.3m high and 32m in diameter. Although no
longer visible at ground level, a ditch, from which material was excavated
during the construction of the monument, surrounds the barrow mound.
This has become infilled over the years but survives as a buried feature
4m wide. The barrow was partly excavated by T L Gwatkin and the
Scarborough Philosophical and Archaeological Society. The barrow mound
contained a partly cremated skeleton, accompanied by a small pot, and a
group of cremations with seven urns, two of which contained cremated human

The second round barrow lies within the pit alignment enclosure,
immediately adjacent to its northern boundary. It is visible as a mound of
earth, boulders and stone. This mound is 1.5m high and is now oblong in
shape with dimensions of 20m north-south and 18m east-west. Originally it
would have been circular. Its present shape is the product of former
ploughing, which has modified the original shape. Although no longer
visible at ground level, a ditch, from which material was excavated during
the construction of the monument, surrounds the barrow mound. This has
become infilled over the years but survives as a buried feature 3m wide.
The barrow was dug into by rabbit catchers in 1955, who found fragments of
pottery. Local archaeologists followed up these diggings with further
investigations, and recovered fragments from two Bronze Age urns.

The monument belongs to a network of prehistoric boundaries which is
surrounded by many other prehistoric monuments, especially burial and
ritual monuments. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling.
These are: the surface of the east-west track crossing Skell Dikes, all
fence posts along modern field boundaries crossing and running along the
monument and the field boundary wall crossing the northern end of Skell
Dikes. The ground beneath all these features is, however included in the

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or
multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between
less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features
visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The
evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that
their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although
they may have been reused later.
The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were
constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries
in the landscape; their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of
their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious
associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those
groups who constructed them. Linear earthworks are of considerable importance
for the analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age; all well-
preserved examples will normally merit statutory protection.

A pit alignment is a linear arrangement of fairly closely-spaced circular
or rectangular holes or pits over 1m in diameter. Some examples are
several kilometres long and some occur as part of a more complex linear
earthwork including linear ditches, slots, palisades and linear banks.
Once dug, the pits were left open as features which eroded and silted up
over a period of time. Nearly all pit alignments have been discovered from
aerial photography and survive as cropmarks or soilmarks. They are largely
found in river valleys in central and northern England, but they are also
common on the Yorkshire Wolds and are found in smaller numbers on other
light, freely-draining soils. Pit alignments probably formed boundaries.
Where excavated, they usually appear to be prehistoric in date, although
examples are also known from the Roman period. All examples surviving as
earthworks are considered to merit protection.

On the North York Moors several pit alignments have been identified with
surviving earthworks. These examples have been found to have a low bank on
either side of the line of pits and have been termed embanked pit
alignments. Round barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late
Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to
the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble
mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. They
occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a
focus for burials in later periods. Often superficially similar, although
differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and a
diversity of burial practices. There are over 10,000 surviving examples
recorded nationally (many more have already been destroyed), occurring
across most of Britain, including the Wessex area where it is often
possible to classify them more closely, for example as bowl or bell
barrows. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic
element in the modern landscape and their considerable variation of form
and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the
diversity of beliefs and social organisation amongst early prehistoric
communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a
substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of

Despite limited disturbance, Skell Dikes has survived well. Important
environmental evidence which can be used to date the boundary and
determine contemporary land use will be preserved within the lowest ditch
fills. Evidence for earlier land use will be preserved in the old ground
surface beneath the banks. Although the pit alignment has been levelled,
the lowest pit fills will preserve valuable evidence for its form and
date, and the nature of the enclosure defined by it. Similar pit
alignments on the Tabular Hills further to the west have been identified
through survey work as the earliest prehistoric boundaries in this area.
Consequently, the relationships between the pit alignment and Skell Dikes,
and with both the round barrow adjacent to it and other burial monuments
in the landscape surrounding the monument are important for understanding
the chronological development of land division during the later
prehistoric period. The form of this pit alignment, defining an enclosure,
is very rare and unique in the North York Moors area, and hence it has
considerable importance as an example of the variability of prehistoric

Skell Dikes belong to a network of prehistoric boundaries, dividing the
area to the south of the scarp edge of the Tabular Hills, between their
eastern limit and Forge Valley in the west. It is thought to represent a
system of territorial land division which was constructed to augment
natural divisions of the landscape by river valleys and watersheds and it
is one of many such groups found on the Tabular Hills. This network of
boundaries lies within a concentration of prehistoric monuments which also
includes many burial and ritual monuments. Networks and associations such
as these offer important scope for the study of land use for social,
ritual and agricultural purposes during the prehistoric period.

Although the two barrows have been partly excavated and altered by
agricultural activity, they still retain significant archaeological
deposits. The barrow adjacent to Skell Dikes is still visible as a mound
and will retain further evidence of the structure of the mound, the
burials placed within it and the surrounding ditch. Significant
information about the original form of the barrow adjacent to the pit
alignment enclosure and the burials placed within it will also be
preserved. The barrows lie within a wider grouping of many burial and
ritual monuments. Such groups provide important insight into the
development of ritual and funerary practice during the Bronze Age.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Smith, M J B, Excavated Bronze Age Burial Mounds of Durham and N' land., (1994), 144-146
Spratt, D A, Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills: North East Yorkshire, (1989), 60-64
Spratt, D A, Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills: North East Yorkshire, (1989), 60-62
Rutter, J G, 'Transactions of the Scarborough and District Archaeological Soc' in A Survey Of Linear Earthworks And Associated Enclosures In NE, , Vol. 2: 13, (1970), 17-19
NYMNP, AF/95C/379 run 21 7522-23, (1995)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1st Edition 6" sheet 93
Source Date: 1854

Title: Ordnance Survey 2nd Edition 25" sheet 93/3
Source Date: 1928

Source: Historic England

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