December 2, 2015, by Jon Henderson
Prehistoric Monuments in the Peak District
Taking place in November, the student ‘Prehistoric’ field trip proved to be the perfect introduction to British archaeology. Weather wise at least. Wrapped up in waterproofs and woolly hats, while huddling together for dear life, the students were able to discern through the horizontal rain two of the more impressive prehistoric field monuments in the Midlands: the Neolithic henge of Arbor Low and the Iron Age hillfort at Mam Tor.
Dr Dave Underhill expertly guided the group around the 76 metre diameter henge which features massive 2 metre high earthen banks enclosing some 50 white limestone slabs, all now fallen. In the centre is a central stone ‘cove’ – a feature found only in major sacred sites. The site dates to the mid-third millennium BC and is often called the finest Stone Age ‘henge’ monument in northern England – though most of the students felt Arbor Low has the edge on Stonehenge given you can get up close and personal with the stones and get a real connection with the scale and monumentality the site. Plus there is no visitors centre with queues of tourists.
After lunch the students braved the climb up to the univallate hillfort on the summit of Mam Tor. The group then spent some time trying to locate some of the 70 or so house platforms within the ramparts. Dr Jon Henderson pointed out the two Bronze Age barrows on the site demonstrating that the tor was a focus for prehistoric activity long before the construction of a large ditch and dump rampart sometime in the Later Prehistoric period. Though the defences are not directly dated radiocarbon dates from occupation on the site calibrate between 1300 and 1000 BC. In addition a 7th century BC socketed axe from the site has been used to support a Late Bronze Age or early Iron Age date. At 517 m (1,696 ft) the hillfort enjoys commanding views over Castleton and High Peak of Derbyshire though given the misty conditions students were fortunate to be able to see each other and had to make do with a description of what the view was like on a clear day!