Rudston ‘D’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus: OS Grid Reference – TA 099 717 to TA 096 679

Archaeology & History

Plan of Rudston D Cursus & associated monuments (after I.M. Stead 1976)
Plan of Rudston D Cursus & associated monuments (after I.M. Stead 1976)

To the north of Rudston village and its giant standing stone, running roughly parallel with the divinatory waters of the Gypsey Race river and passing a mass of prehistoric remains en route, we find one the biggest prehistoric cursus monuments in the British Isles: the Rudston D cursus.  More than twice as long as any of the three other cursus monuments nearby, its northern end or ‘terminal’ is flattened in nature (others are rounded) and is due east of the village of Burton Fleming starting at the intriguingly-named Maidens Grave field, just as the land begins to rise at TA 099 717.  From here it begins its almost southern trajectory and runs almost dead straight for several hundred yards until edging, ever so slightly in direction, to a slightly more secure southern alignment.  Past the site of the Rudston henge, the cursus broadens out slightly and, as it reaches the farmlands of Littlethorpe, edges slightly further to a more decisive direct southern route.  The cursus then maintains a dead straight course for another mile, heading straight for, and stopping just short of the Rudston monolith in its modern churchyard.  A short distance before we reach its southern end, archaeologists found that a section of the Cursus C monument cut right across it.  Altogether, the Rudston D Cursus is more than 4km (2.3 miles) long!  At its narrowest width, this monument is a mere 160 feet (50m) across, and at its widest is 280 feet (90m).  A giant by anyone’s standard!

Along the entire length of this continuous ditch and inner bank there were just 3 small cuttings on the western side and three on the east, but two of the eastern openings were quite large.  Some of these openings were affected by natural elements and others by modern agriculture. Today, much of this gigantic ritual monument (as the archaeologists call them) is not visible at ground level.

In visiting this area, make yourself aware of the other monuments in this class: the Rudston A cursus and Rudston B cursus, southeast and southwest of here respectively. A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Rites of the Gods, J.M. Dent: London 1981.
  2. Harding, Jan, ‘Pathways to New Realms: Cursus Monuments and Symbolic Territories,’ in Barclay & Harding, Pathways and Ceremonies: The Cursus Monuments of Britain and Ireland, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
  5. Stead, I.M., ‘La Tene Burials between Burton Fleming and Rudston,’ in Antiquaries Journal, volume LVI Part II, 1976.

Links:

  1. ADS: Archaeology of Rudston D – Brief archaeological notes on the longest of the four known cursuses in the region.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'D' Cursus

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Rudston \'D\' Cursus 54.114347, -0.321356 Rudston \'D\' Cursus

Rudston ‘C’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – TA 0914 6809 – TA 1014 6803

Archaeology & History

D.P. Dymond's 1966 sketch of Rudston 'C' cursus
D.P. Dymond’s 1966 sketch of Rudston ‘C’ cursus

Of the four giant linear cursus monuments that were laid out around the landscape that holds Britain’s largest standing stone—the Rudston monolith—this one, the Rudston ‘C’ cursus, is the one we know the least about. This is mainly due to it receiving the minimum of archaeological attention, which can be forgiven round here as there is so much material to explore!  Traces of the cursus at ground level are also quite negligible.  Thankfully however, like the other cursus monuments nearby, some of the site can be made out on GoogleEarth.  

The alignment of this cursus runs east-to-west, cutting across the Cursus D monument and then running above the northern course of Nature’s curious river known as the Gypsey Race, which local folklore ascribes as being used in animistic divinatory practices.  Cursus C was first noticed in aerial photographs taken by Prof. J.K. St. Joseph in 1961 and first described by D.P. Dymond (1966) a few years later, who told us:

“Immediately north of the village (Rudston), two parallel ditches, about 60 yards apart, are visible as crop-marks running east-west for 1000 yards… As they are too far apart to be considered as road-ditches and are similar to the linear ditches (of Rudston A and B), they are best interpreted as a fragment of a third cursus, C. The western end fades out near the York road as it climbs onto high ground, while at the east the ditches disappear into Bridlington Gate Plantation.  Like Cursus A, this also crossed the Gypsey Race. Approximately 1½ miles northwest of the last westward point of these ditches is the presumed site of two lost long barrows, joined together at one end. There may, therefore, have been an original connection between Cursus C and these long barrows.”

First faint photo of Cursus C
First faint photo of Cursus C

His final remark is quite a good one! And since Dymond’s initial description (according to the PastScape lads anyhow), Cursus C has been found to be much longer than the initial 1000 yards, growing another 500 yards at least!  The final point or ‘terminal’ on the eastern end still remains hidden, as it was intruded upon by the later Argham Dyke and the trees.  The start or western terminal also remains unfound, so we don’t know for sure the exact length of this giant neolithic ‘line on the landscape’, as Pennick and Devereux (1989) call them.

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Harding, Jan, ‘Pathways to New Realms: Cursus Monuments and Symbolic Territories,’ in Barclay & Harding, Pathways and Ceremonies: The Cursus Monuments of Britain and Ireland, Oxbow: Oxford 1999.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. Manby, T.G., “The Neolithic in Eastern Yorkshire,” in Archaeology in Eastern Yorkshire, University of Sheffield 1988.
  5. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.
  6. Stead, I.M., ‘La Tene Burials between Burton Fleming and Rudston,’ in Antiquaries Journal, volume LVI Part II, 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'C' Cursus

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Rudston \'C\' Cursus 54.096982, -0.324293 Rudston \'C\' Cursus

Rudston Monolith, East Yorkshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – TA 09803 67740

Getting Here

Rudston’s monolith (photo by ‘QDanT’)

To get to the monolith travel along the B1253 road to the west of Bridlington for about 5 miles or from York take the A166 in an easterly direction then onto the B1251 and at Fridaythorpe take the B1253 east again toward Bridlington. The huge stone cannot be missed from the road and from the surrounding area. It stands within the graveyard of All Saints’ church at the north-eastern side of Rudston village.

Archaeology & History

Located in the graveyard of All Saints’ church, this huge and mighty monolith or menhir stands at 25 foot 9 inches high (7.7 metres), and is the tallest prehistoric standing stone in Britain. It is estimated to weigh 40 tons, and it is thought to be the same in height below ground as what it is above the ground, though I don’t know whether anyone has ever checked that theory out. It probably dates from the Bronze-Age about 1,600 BC. Because of vandalism and erosion the top of the stone now has a lead cap, so it is said the stone could have originally been 28 feet high. So where has the top part gone to, I wonder. We are told that the stone was dragged, or rolled on logs, all the way from an outcrop at Cayton Bay some 10 miles as the crow flies to the north.

Royston’s 1873 drawing
Rudson Monolith (Louise Hutchinson 1988)

Rudston monolith stands at the end of at least one cursus monument on an old prehistoric alignment (see the Rudston B Cursus entry).  It would appear to have played an important ingredient in a huge ceremonial landscape on the Gypsey Race.  Also in the churchyard (north-east corner) there is a large slab-stone cist which was removed from a nearby round barrow and also a gritstone. At Breeze Farm about one mile to the south-west of the village is the site of a Roman villa.

Folklore

The folklore elements tell us that this is, in fact, a phallic stone and in pagan times some form of ritual was held around the monolith, but then the Christian church was built around it in the Dark Ages – it was a case of Christianity adopting the pagan religion and allowing the stone to stay where it was, but what else could they do because the stone was to big to move, so a lot of tolerance was in order here. The present church of All Saints’ dates from the Norman period. In any case the stone had stood here for a good 2,000 years or more before any church was established in the village. According to the legend, the devil hurled the huge stone at the first Christian church on the site, but as usual he just missed – doesn’t he always!

References:

  1. Bord, Janet & Colin, Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books: London 1991.
  2. Anderton, Bill, Guide To Ancient Britain, Foulsham: London 1991.
  3. Darvill, Timothy, AA Glovebox Guide – Ancient Britain, AA Publishing Division: Basingstoke 1988.
  4. Royston, Peter, Rudston: A Sketch of its History and Antiquities, George Furby: Bridlington 1873.

© Ray Spencer, The Northern Antiquarian 2011

Rudston monolith

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Rudston monolith 54.093868, -0.322561 Rudston monolith

Rudston ‘A’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference — TA 0998 6577 to TA 1016 6802

Also known as:

  1. Beacon Cursus
  2. Rudston Cursus 1
  3. Woldgate Cursus

Archaeology & History

The site has been known about for nearly 150 years, albeit mistakenly as a series of prehistoric barrows that William Greenwell (1877) told were “near the division between the parishes of Rudston and Burton Agnes” near the crest of the hill.  He further told the place to be,

“Two long mounds, almost parallel, their northern end gradually losing themselves in the surface-level, but connected together at the southern end by another long mound.”

South end of Cursus A (after D.P. Dymond)
Early photo of Cursus A (after J.K.St Joseph)

Then in 1958 when C. & E. Grantham of Driffield did the first modern excavation here across a section of the western ditch, they found that the long embankment went on much further than ever previously anticipated, for more than half-a-mile downhill in the direction of Rudston village.  It wasn’t a long barrow or tombs of any sort, they found!  Then in 1961 when Dr. J.K. St. Joseph did aerial survey work over the area, he and his colleagues established that this monument consisted of extensive parallel ditches stretching for at least 1½ miles towards and past the eastern side of Rudston village.  It’s nature as a cursus monument was rediscovered after several thousand years in the wilderness… (on St. Joseph’s survey, two other cursus monuments were also found in the vicinity, being Rudston Cursus B and Cursus C)  Readers will hopefully forgive me for quoting at some length Mr Dymond’s (1966) article on the site (with minimal editing!):

“The southern end of the cursus lies in the western angle of two roads, Woldgate and Burton Agnes Balk.  In plan it is square with rounded corners and consists of a bank with outer ditch.  Although the bank has been ploughed for many years, it still remains substantial; it stands up to 4 feet high from the outside and 1-2 feet wide from the inside.  The east and west banks decline in height northwards and are now at their greatest height where they join the southern end.  The profile of each bank is smooth and rounded and merges on the outside with the broad shallow depression of the silted-up ditch.  The south bank is now 170 feet long overall, and spread to a width of 60-80 feet.  It stands higher at both ends than in the middle.  This fact was noted by Greenwell, who also recorded that at the southwest angle “there was the appearance of a round barrow raised upon the surface of the long mound.”  There is no surface evidence today to suggest a secondary round barrow, and to some extent at least the greater height at the angles is probably due to the concentration of upcast inside a fairly sharp corner.

“The south arm of the ditch has been largely destroyed by a chalk-pit, but the southeast turn is quite clear on air-photographs.  There is no suggestion on the ground or from the air that the cursus had ever extended further to the south.

“The cursus begins its descent in a due northerly direction, and loses its eastern side for approximately 600 feet under the enclosure road, Burton Agnes Balk.  The ditch can be traced intermittently on the western and eastern verges.  It then swings gently NNW around the head of a small slack draining northwest.  Thus far the cursus is traceable on the ground.  The ditches are the most consistent feature, showing as broad shallow depressions 20-40 feet wide and 70-80 yards apart, which when in fallow attract a dark coarse vegetation (particularly thistles and nettles.  The banks inside the ditches are sometimes visible in relief though considerably spread.  Where the banks have been almost entirely ploughed out, a chalk spread usually marks their position.

“There is a suggestion on the ground that the banks and ditches may have been separated by berms, particularly on the east side near the square end.  This appears to be confirmed by the silting of the ditch in the excavated section…

“Proceeding further downhill in the direction of Rudston village, the cursus quite suddenly swings north-NNE, finally crosses Burton Agnes Balk, and passes to the west of Pits Plantation.  On the west of the road both banks and ditches are still visible in relief, and the ditches produce a firm crop-mark.  East of the road no surface traces are discernible, and only the eastern ditch shows intermittently as a crop-mark.

“For ½-mile across the floor of the Great Wold Valley, there is no trace of the cursus.  The area has been ploughed since medieval times, and there is in addition a considerable Romano-British settlement.  It is worth noting that in this length, the cursus must have crossed the stream of the Gypsey Race, surely a fact of some importance in any discussion of the function of cursuses.

“Two parallel ditches c.60 yards apart, visible on air photographs in a field immediately north of the modern Rudston-Bridlington road, seem to represent the continuation of the cursus.  The ditches travel for approximately 300 yards and end at the Bridlington Gate Plantation.  There are no surface traces in the field, but a depression in the plantation may represent the eastern ditch.  This depression is crossed obliquely by the remains of a low bank and ditch running along the length of the plantation WSW and ENE.  This latter (part) is probably part of the supposedly Iron Age entrenchment system, and has certainly been used as a road from Rudston to Bridlington, as the name of the plantation implies.

“The northern end of the cursus cannot be traced.  Possibilities are that the end was in the plantation and has been destroyed by the later earthwork, or that the cursus proceeded NNE for an unknown distance.  If the latter hypothesis is accepted, the western ditch must be under the Argam Dykes, a double entrenchment which appears to terminate at the northern side of the plantation, and the eastern ditch is indistinguishable  from ploughing lines to which it is parallel…

“Cursus A has its southern end at a height of 254 feet OD, on the forward face of a long chalk ridge running WSW and ENE.  From this point the course of the cursus is visible, except for that part west of Pits Plantation.  The last known part in Bridlington Gate Plantation, 1½ miles off, is clearly visible.  Seen against the contours of the area, the cursus has one end resting on a high ridge, crosses a broad valley, and climbs at least in part, the far side.  It appears to pass approximately 300 yards east of the monolith in Rudston churchyard.”

Line of Rudston A

The presence of this and three other cursus monuments close by (Rudston B, C and D) indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors.  Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all.  A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a relationship well known to students of comparative religion and anthropology who understand the socio-organic animistic relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
  3. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.
  4. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  5. Nicholson, John, Beacons of East Yorkshire, A. Brown & Sons: Hull 1887.
  6. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links: – ADS: Archaeology of the Beacon Cursus, or Rudston A – Notes on the cursus which has been given the most attention to date.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'A' Cursus

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Rudston \'A\' Cursus 54.082679, -0.321463 Rudston \'A\' Cursus

Rudston B Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – TA 0805 6697 to TA 0944 6755 

  1. Rudston Cursus 2

Archaeology & History

One of the four (known) cursus monuments around Rudston: this one stretches between the Ordnance Survey coordinates TA 081669 near Kilham Grange on the southwestern edge of Rudston, then heads northeast towards the village itself at TA 094675.  Described briefly in D.P.Dymond’s essay on (mainly) Cursus A, he said how Cursus B was part of,

Early ground-plan (after D.P. Dymond)
Early photo of Rudston B (after J.K.St Joseph)

“a large complex of crop marks.  The largest feature is the squared, tapering end of Cursus B, which can be traced for 700 yards in a north-easterly direction.  No surface remains seem to survive in an area intensively ploughed, except for a swelling under a hedge on the line of the south-eastern bank (at TA 0834 6703).  West of the square end and partly overlying it, are several small rectangular enclosures, which are probably part of a later (?Romano-British) settlement and field-system.  Also in this tangle of crop-marks there are four roughly circular shapes, which may well be barrow circles associated with the end of the cursus.  On certain barrow just south of the end of the cursus has an inner ring of pits.  Where the cursus is lat visible to the north-east, it is headed roughly for the monolith ¾-mile away.  The width of Cursus B is approximately 90 yards between ditch centres.  It has its square end on the forward slope of a ridge (like Cursus A) at a height of 180 feet OD, and descends towards the village, which is visible from the end, through a shallow valley.”

Dymond’s note about the alignment feature of this cursus, towards the gigantic Rudston monolith, was one echoed in the Hedges & Buckley (1981) survey.  They noted:

“At Rudston, the B cursus extended eastwards aligns upon the Rudston monolith in Rudston churchyard. Destruction of standing stones elsewhere may have removed similar associations between the stones and cursuses.”

This alignment feature was also confirmed by cognitive archaeologist and alignment specialist, Paul Devereux (Pennick & Devereux 1989) in his survey of cursus monuments.

Typical of these fascinating antiquities, nothing of any worth has been found along the length of the cursus that can give us any clues to its nature and function.  However, the presence of this and three others close by indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors.  Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all.  A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
  3. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links:

  1. ADS: Archaeology of Rudston B – Brief archaeological notes on the cursus to the southwest of Rudston.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Rudston 'B' Cursus

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Rudston \'B\' Cursus 54.090181, -0.337988 Rudston \'B\' Cursus