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Authority English Heritage
Other Ref SM Cat. No. 1
Date assigned Friday, August 18, 1882
Date last amended Friday, April 15, 1994


REASONS FOR DESIGNATION Henges are ritual or ceremonial centres which date to the Late Neolithic period (2800-2000 BC). They were constructed as roughly circular or oval- shaped enclosures comprising a flat area over 20m in diameter enclosed by a ditch and external bank. One, two or four entrances provided access to the interior of the monument, which may have contained a variety of features including timber or stone circles, post or stone alignments, pits, burials or central mounds. Finds from the ditches and interiors of henges provide important evidence for the chronological development of the sites, the types of activity that occurred within them and the nature of the environment in which they were constructed. Henges occur throughout England with the exception of south-eastern counties and the Welsh Marches. They are generally situated on low ground, often close to springs and water-courses. Henges are rare nationally with about 80 known examples. As one of the few types of identified Neolithic structures and in view of their comparative rarity, all henges are considered to be of national importance. Arbor Low henge is a very well-preserved example of a Class II henge and displays a high diversity of features including burials, an associated linear earthwork, a stone setting, roughly opposed entrances and a later bowl barrow. Bowl barrows are prehistoric funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age (c.2400-1500BC). Constructed as rubble or earthen mounds covering single or multiple burials, they are particularly representative of their period and provide important evidence on burial practices and social organisation among early prehistoric communities. Within the henge is a large irregular stone circle. Stone circles of this type comprise a ring of at least 20 stone uprights with a diameter of between 20m and 40m. The uprights tend to be more closely spaced than in other types of circle and the height and positioning of the stones appears not to have been as important. Where excavated, stone circles of all classes have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2400-1000BC) and, though we do not fully understand the uses for which they were constructed, it is clear they had considerable ritual importance for the societies that used them, often providing a focus for burials and funerary rituals and sometimes having a calendrical function, helping mark the passage of time and the seasons. Large irregular stone circles are widely distributed throughout England, although in the south they are largely confined to the west. Only 45 of the 250 or so stone circles identified in England are classed as large irregular circles. Therefore, as a rare monument type which provides an important insight into prehistoric ritual activity, all surviving examples are worthy of protection DETAILS The monument is situated in the central uplands of the limestone plateau of Derbyshire and includes, within two areas, Arbor Low henge and stone circle, the linear bank adjoining the henge, and the bowl barrow superimposed on the east side of the henge bank. The henge comprises a massive bank and internal quarry ditch surrounding an oval area with a diameter of c.40m by 52m. The ditch varies between 7m and 12m wide and has been demonstrated by Gray, who carried out partial excavations of the site in 1901-2, to have been 2-3m deep originally with steep rock-cut sides. The bank, which is c.2m high and between 8m and 10m wide, is roughly circular and has an external diameter of 90m by 85m. It is estimated originally to have been c.3m high and is broken by two entrances, one to the north-west and the other to the south-south-east. The ditch is crossed by causeways at the entrances, the former 9m wide and the latter 6m wide. Gray excavated both terminals of the ditch at the north-west entrance, uncovering the remains of bone and antler tools, flint flakes and a number of flint artefacts which included scrapers, a leaf-shaped arrowhead and a barbed and tanged arrowhead. Traces of fire were also found, together with a series of ledges which Gray interpreted as steps. Antler tines were found at the south-south-east entrance and are also taken to be the remains of tools used to construct the henge. A stone in this entrance, and a corresponding pit in the north-west causeway, indicate that both entrances may originally have contained portal stones. Within the henge are the remains of a large irregular stone circle originally comprising 41-43 upright limestone slabs. Of these, only one is still standing and several are broken so that there are now more than 50 stumps and fragments. The stones were roughly equally spaced in the ring and varied in height between 1m and nearly 3m with the tallest stones standing near the entrances of the henge. At the centre of the circle is a ruined stone-setting called the cove which consisted of at least six stones believed to have been set in a rectangle. Gray excavated part of the cove and found, on the east side, within an oval arrangement of large blocks, an extended skeleton laid with its head to the south-south-east. Several metres north-east of this he found traces of another human burial, in a pit disturbed by an earlier unrecorded excavation. A further burial was found outside the circle in 1845 when Thomas Bateman partially excavated the large bowl barrow superimposed on the south-east side of the henge. This barrow, which is c.21m in diameter and survives to a height of c.2.5m, was at least partly constructed from material taken from the henge bank and so, in its present form, must be of later date. However, near the centre of the barrow, on the old land surface, Bateman found a limestone cist or grave containing, in addition to the remains of a human cremation and artefacts of flint and bone, two unusual pots which are similar to Late Neolithic Peterborough ware. The dating of these pots, and the location of the cist on the old land surface, indicate that the burial may in fact be earlier than the barrow and predates or is contemporary with the henge. The construction of the barrow suggests the later re-use of the burial place, probably in the Bronze Age. Leading southwards from the henge is a bank and ditch which extends for c.150m. To the south of this, a further section turns westward through Gib Hill plantation and is c.200m long. Between the two there is a gap of c.70m which contains no visible earthworks but may contain the buried remains of an intervening section of bank and ditch: however, this area is not included in the scheduling as the extent and state of survival of the remains is not sufficiently understood. In both upstanding sections of the earthwork, the bank is 2-3m wide and less than 1m high while the shallow ditch is c.6m wide and lies to the east of the bank. Gray carried out an excavation at the junction of the bank with the henge and found it to be later than or contemporary with the latter. Despite its sometimes being referred to as "the avenue", the feature is not thought to be a formal structure related to the henge as it does not lead to an entrance. Instead it is interpreted as a field boundary and has yet to be precisely dated. All modern field walls and fencing crossing the monument are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included. Together with nearby Gib Hill, the henge, stone circle and barrow have been in State care since 1884. SELECTED SOURCES Book Reference - Author: Barnatt, J. - Title: The Henges, Stone Circles and Ringcairns of the Peak District - Type: PLAN: MEASURED Book Reference - Author: Barnatt, J. - Title: The Peak District Barrow Survey - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Barnatt, J. - Title: The Peak District Barrow Survey - Type: PLAN: MEASURED Book Reference - Author: Barnatt, John - Title: The Henges, Stone Circles and Ringcairns of the Peak District - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Bateman - Title: Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Gray, H. St. G. - Title: The Excavations at Arbor Low 1901-2 - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Gray, St. G.H. - Title: On Excavations on Arbor Low 1901-1902 - Type: PLAN: MEASURED Book Reference - Author: Hart, C.R. - Title: The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Radley, J. - Title: The Origins of the Arbor Low Monument - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Rooke, H. - Type: DESC TEXT

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Sources (1)

  • Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1882. Scheduling notification: Arbor Low henge, large irregular stone circle, linear bank and bowl barrow. List entry no. 1011087. SM Cat. No. 1.



Grid reference Centred SK 1592 6341 (332m by 390m)
Map sheet SK16SE

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

Record last edited

Jul 31 2013 4:06PM

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