The other day I contacted my mate Chris and asked him if he fancied a mooch up onto Sleights Moor to check-out the Bronze Age cist at Greenland’s Howe. Chris was happy to come with me so we drove up from Sleights and headed across the moor to the monument. A cist is basically a stone lined box into which a body or cremated remains were placed, a stone lid or capstone was then placed on top, sealing the the cist. A circlular kerb of stones was then placed around the cist and finally an earthen mound was built over the cist and stones to create what is known as a barrow.
On the North York Moors barrows are more commonly referred to as Howes from the old Norse Haugr meaning hill. The cist at Greenland’s Howe is one of the best preserved examples on the North York Moors, the mound and a number of the kerb stones have been removed but enough remains to illustrate how these ancient burial monuments were constructed.
The cist has been placed into an alignment of approximately 310 degrees, which roughly aligns it to the rising sun on the winter solstice and the stetting sun on the summer solstice. Greenland’s Howe, in common with many North York Moors burial mounds, is situated on high ground, allowing it to be visible on the skyline from certain viewpoints. We can probably assume that these viewpoints were where the relatives of the dead lived. The sight of the graves of the ancestors would have provided a sense of continuity and legitimise ownership of the land.
The views to the north are along the Littlebeck Valley towards Whitby and the coast. Just to the north of the monument there is an upright stone, a possible outlier, which aligns with Whitby. Chris and I discussed the possible function of this standing stone, Bronze Age people would have navigated the north-south routes across the high Moors using the chains of barrows as waymarkers. This outlying stone could have directed travellers from the high moors to the mouth of the Esk, which is not directly visible from the monument.