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Monument record MDR2223 - Mam Tor Hillfort, Castleton

Type and Period (3)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

Mam Tor, the well-known great hill towering above Castleton and Edale to a height of 1,700 ft above the sea level, has its summit crowned with a remarkable and comprehensive earthwork, embracing an area of about sixteen acres, within a rampart that had a circumference, when perfect, of 1,200 yards. (Mam Tor was described and a plan given, showing it more perfect than now, in Bray's 'Tour', published in 1783). The almost precipitous sides of the hill upon which this camp or enclosure was placed gave it a strong natural defence all round, except on the north side, where it is connected with the ridge of Lose Hill. The natural defences were increased by encompassing the summit within a powerful double rampart, which is still fairly perfect. A long-established local name for Mam Tor is the Shivering Mountain, so called from the shale of which it is composed continually decomposing under atmospheric action, and falling at times in considerable quantities into the valleys beneath. The enclosure is of an irregular tongue-like shape and the ramparts have for ages been slowly disappearing on both sides of the base of the tongue which forms the southern end. Probably the only original entrance is at the south, where there are remains of a third bank, making a triple rampart. There are two small tumuli at the south end of the enclosed area. The extreme length of the enclosure from north to south is 1,125 ft and the greatest width 700 ft. The southern end yields a measurement of a little under 600 ft, but it must have been fully 1000 ft wide before the process of disintegration of the flaky shale set in. (1, 2) The extremity of the steep-sided ridge of sandstone and shale which divides the vale of Edale on the north from the Hope valley and the limestone plateau on the south is occupied by the hill-fort of Mam Tor, from which there are extensive views in all directions. A rampart, a ditch and a counterscarp bank, enclosing an irregular area of 16 acres, follow the contours on the east, south and west, but come almost to a point on the north, where they rise to cross the ridge. The banks and ditch are continuous and well preserved, except where the shales have slipped and carried them away. Where the ridge dips steeply at the south-west there is an entrance, of 'double-inturn' type. There is a similar entrance where the defences cross the ridge on the north. Apart from the objects from the two earlier barrows within the circuit of the fort, the only find recorded from Mam Tor is a small fragment of a rounded and slightly inturned rim, suggestive of a bag-shaped pot of Iron Age type, which was picked up in 1950 immediately within the rampart on the eastern side of the fort. (3) The hillfort is as described above. It was resurveyed by the Ordnance Survey at 1:2500 on the 25th August 1962. (4) Mam Tor was chosen as a training site for archaeology students from Manchester University, with work commencing in 1965. This took the form of a section through the defences at a point near the northern entrance and investigation of anomalies revealed by the proton magnetometer survey of a limited area. (5) Further excavations in 1966 and 1967 revealed possible Iron Age hut circles, pits, post holes and gulleys. (6) Mam Tor, the largest of a small group of hillforts in the Peak District, was excavated by Manchester University from 1965 to 1969. The evidence suggests that there were possibly three phases of construction of the defences: phase one, a timber palisade or revetment; phase two, an earlier rampart; and phase three, the present rampart and ditch. Several hut platforms were excavated, one containing an internal hearth, yielding pottery and finds of the Middle and Late Bronze age together with charcoal dated to the same period by means of radiocarbon dating. The settlement, as separate from the defences, must now be regarded as a late Bronze Age elevated settlement or 'Hohensiedlung'. There are no means of dating the defences which, up to now, have been considered typically Iron Age. Finds included large quantities of pottery and also a polished stone axe, a bronze axe fragment, four whetstones. and shale bracelet fragments. The bronze axe fragment appears to come from a socketed axe and can perhaps be placed within the Sompting class (after 650 BC). The range of pottery mainly consisted of jars, many coarse but some quite finely made; there were also some plain bowls. (8-11) Mam Tor is a steep-sided hogsback ridge of alternating sandstone and shale and the univallate hillfort occupying the summit of the ridge is now a scheduled monument, including the two bowl barrows within the interior of the hillfort. The fort comprises an area of c. 6ha enclosed by a single line of defensive earthworks including a rampart, berm, ditch and counterscarp bank. Hut platforms were discovered during excavation of the interior. Internal features of the platforms included hearths, postholes and stakeholes, storage pits and gullies. A variety of small finds were recovered, including whetstones, fragments of shale bracelets, and large quantities of pot sherds. The latter indicated a single phase of occupation during the early first millennium BC which was confirmed by radiocarbon dating of charcoal from two of the huts. Earlier finds included flint tools and a Neolithic polished stone axe, indicative of possible settlement in the third millennium BC, prior to the construction of the hillfort. In addition, a fragment of a socketed bronze axe was found in one of the huts. This item has been dated typologically to c. 600 BC and indicates the possible use of the hillfort in the final phase of the Bronze Age, five hundred years after the other excavated huts were inhabited. (14) Two radiocarbon dates have been acquired from charcoal on the floor of house platforms at Mam Tor. Analysis produced determinations of 1180 +/- 132bc (BIRM 202), and 1130+/- 115bc (BIRM 192), both falling in the Later Bronze Age. While the charcoal may be contemporary with the building platforms on which it was found, both samples comprise composite collections of charcoal fragments. Thus the derived date may be an 'average' date representing a series of episodes of burning at the site. A further problem is that the samples were not securely sealed in features such as pits or postholes, thus the possibility of contamination by charcoal of a significantly different date cannot be ruled out. Even if only a proportion of the numerous house platforms on the hilltop were contemporary with each other (and the dated samples), then this is a settlement of unusual size. Such a settlement is likely to have had a wide catchment area and it is probably no coincidence that Mam Tor lies at the head of the Hope valley, the main valley in this part of the Peak. It can be seen as a 'central place', perhaps one of several that existed in the Peak District, that developed in the Later Bronze Age between 1500 and 1000 BC. (15) In 1989 an almost complete nether stone of a saddle quern was found among rubble exposed by erosion of the footpath which crosses the hillfort. Saddle quernstones are rare finds in the Peak District, and none was recovered during the excavations at Mam Tor in the 1960s. Whilst it probably dates to the later Bronze Age or earlier Iron Age, the discovery of flintwork on Mam Tor means that an earlier date for the quernstone is a possibility. (16) Reappraisal of the fragmentary axehead found during excavation in 1969 has led to recognition that it is made of lead rather than bronze. The socketed form of this axehead is a type that was widely produced during the Late Bronze Age, c. 11th to 7th centuries BC. Such lead axeheads are rare in Britain. They have been variously explained as votive objects, as ingots-cum-currency, or as part of some metalworkers' equipment, perhaps serving as trial pieces, as core-boxes, or as models from which to manufacture bronze axes. If correctly interpreted, this fragment from Mam Tor can be regarded as the oldest artefact of lead yet recovered from a site in the Peak District; potentially also as the earliest indication of exploitation of the resources of lead in the White Peak. (17) A number of pottery sherds from excavations at Mam Tor were thin-sectioned, with a view to examining the various types of rock that had been used to temper the pots, and in particular what appeared to be fragments of igneous rock, as this had not been identified in previous analyses of the pottery. The thin-sectioning confirmed the presence of igneous rock and also showed that the rock fragments could all have been obtained locally. It would also seem that the prehistoric use of Mam Tor was not confined to the north-eastern end of the hilltop but that it extended almost to the summit, and may well have spread beyond. (18) Mam Tor is a later prehistoric hillfort located on a very prominent hilltop, visible from and across the landscape. It comprises a large rampart, enclosing approximately five hectares, within which are numerous building platforms and at least one, possibly two, earlier burial barrows. The rampart consists of a single large stone and earth bank with external ditch and smaller counterscarp bank. It completely encloses the top of the hill and largely follows the contour. The earthwork is interrupted by two areas of landslip to the south-east and south-west. While it is difficult to be certain whether or not they were present in prehistory, the positioning of the straight section of southern earthwork suggests that they were. Small-scale excavations in the 1960s identified up to three phases of construction in the main bank. There are two entrances which break these ramparts, located on the axis of the ridge to the north-east and south-west at the two points of easiest access to the hilltop. The interior of the hillfort contains numerous sub-circular platforms, most of which are terraced into the sloping flanks to the north-west and north-east of the ridge. The 1960s excavations sampled parts of nine of these platforms, with substantial areas of only four investigated. Six of these platforms contained arrangements of gullies, stakeholes, postholes and pottery which suggested that they were the foundations for buildings, while the evidence in the three other platforms was not so clear. There was no build-up of occupation layers on any of the platforms, with only two archaeological layers identified between the topsoil above and natural below. While most building platforms were sub-circular in plan, one was circular, approximately 4 metres in diameter, with a central hearth and a possible north-facing entrance defined by two post-holes. Two schools of thought have developed about the date of Mam Tor. One argues that the whole site is later Bronze Age based on the radio-carbon dates and artefacts, while the other proposes that although the settlement is later Bronze Age the earthworks are Iron Age. The dating, including length of use, of the most prominent hillfort in the Peak District can only be resolved by an excavation programme designed to address these questions. (20) As part of a programme of repairs to eroded areas on Mam Tor, an archaeological watching brief was carried out in 1998. This included the recording of the base of a drystone wall, c. 1m wide. Another short stretch of this wall had been recorded in 1993, and its line can be traced to the top of a landslip, where it appears as a low earthwork bank, one of two such banks which appear to have crossed the ridge. These banks presumably represent robbed walls that may have been dismantled at the time of construction of a ridge-top wall, known to have been in existence in 1783. (21) In November 2013, ARS Ltd was commissioned by the National Trust to undertake an archaeological watching brief during a programme of footpath improvements at the north-eastern gateway of Mam Tor. The brief involved monitoring the replacement of the existing pitched path with a new improved path to prevent further erosion of the gateway. No artefacts were encountered during the watching brief. A stake hole was revealed, but it is thought to represent a modern feature. Around the hillfort gateway itself, a cluster of gritstone blocks was uncovered at an overall depth of 150 to 200mm below the ground surface. The feature at first appeared natural, but is now considered most likely to be of anthropogenic origin. It was not fully-investigated, but the entire area of the path along the hillfort's entrance was subsequently replaced with new flagstones rather than pitched stones in order to leave this possible feature undisturbed. (24) At Mam Tor hillfort, three fragments of a metal axe were found during the 1969 excavations. These have recently been identified as lead. The style of the axe indicates it probably dates to the 11th to 7th centuries BC, while detail suggests a potential 7th century date. Only a few other examples of lead axes are known in Britain, but they are found in greater numbers, sometimes in hoards, elsewhere in western Europe and particularly in Armorica. Their function is unclear, though they are certainly too soft to be used as practical tools or weapons, but various suggestions have been made including prestige or votive objects, trial casting pieces and core boxes for smelting. (25) The monument covers an area of c.6.5ha.. It stands at the summit of a hill with defences consisting of a bank, ditch and a counterscarp. In places the defences stand 3m high. As such it resembles a 'traditional' contour fort elsewhere in the country. In 2011 the monument, which is managed by the National Trust, was 'reasonabaly well consolidated', with stone flagged paths. As a well visited site there are areas of erosion and landslip, but there appears to be little major damage. It is difficult to assess the condition of archaeological deposits. <26>

Sources/Archives (27)

  • <1> Article in serial: Chalkley Gould, I. 1902. 'Mam Tor, near Castleton', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 24, pp 27-31.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Cox, J. 1905. 'Ancient Earthworks', in The Victoria County History of Derbyshire, Volume 1. pp 357-396. pp 367-370.
  • <3> Article in serial: Preston, F. 1954. 'The hill-forts of the Peak', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 74, pp 1-31. pp 3-4.
  • <4> Personal Observation: F1 FRH 15-SEP-65.
  • <5> Article in serial: Jones, G & Thompson, F. 1965. 'Excavations at Mam Tor and Brough-on-Noe', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 85, pp 123-126.
  • <6> Article in serial: Coombs, D. 1967. 'Manchester University excavations 1967- 2. Mam Tor', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 87, pp 158-159.
  • <7> Index: North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust (NDAT). North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust Index: 0588.
  • <8> Article in serial: Coombs, D G. 1971. 'Mam Tor, a Bronze Age hillfort?', Current Archaeology. Number 27, pp 100-102.
  • <9> Monograph: Challis, A & Harding, W. 1975. 'Later Prehistory from the Trent to the Tyne', British Archaeological Report 20. Part 2.
  • <10> Article in monograph: Coombs, D G. 1976. 'Excavations at Mam Tor, Derbyshire 1965-69' in Harding, D (Ed.), 'Hillforts, Later Prehist Earthworks in Britain & Ireland'. pp 147-152 (includes plan)..
  • <11> Article in serial: Coombs, D (University of Manchester) & Thompson, F (Society of Antiquaries). 1979. 'Excavation of the hill fort of Mam Tor, Derbyshire, 1965-9', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 99, pp 7-51.
  • <12> Article in serial: Gerrish, E. 1983. 'The prehistoric pottery from Mam Tor: further considerations', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 103, pp 43-46.
  • <13> Bibliographic reference: Cunliffe, B W. 1991. Iron Age Communities in Britiain: an Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest.
  • <14> Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1993. Scheduling Notification: Slight univallate hillfort and two bowl barrows on Mam Tor. Cat. No. 73.
  • <15> Article in serial: Barnatt, J (PPJPB). 1995. 'Neolithic and Bronze Age radiocarbon dates from the Peak District: a review', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 115, pp 5-19. pp 10-11, p 12.
  • <16> Article in serial: Guilbert, G. 1995. 'A re-dressed saddle quernstone from Mam Tor', Derbyshire Archaelogical Journal. Volume 115, pp 33-36.
  • <17> Bibliographic reference: Guilbert, G. 1996. 'The ldest artefact of lead in the Peak- new evidence from Mam Tor', Mining History: The Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society. Volume 13, pp 12-18.
  • <18> Article in serial: Guilbert, G (TPAT) & Vince, A (CLAU). 1996. 'Petrology of some prehistoric pottery from Mam Tor', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 116, pp 49-59.
  • <19> Bibliographic reference: Collis, J. 1999. 'Nineteenth century legacies' in Bevan, B. (ed.) 'Northern Exposure: interpretative devolution and the Iron Age of Britain'.
  • <20> Unpublished document: Bevan, B (PDNPA). 2001. National Trust High Peak Estate, archaeological survey, 2001. Feature 87, pp 40-43.
  • <21> Article in serial: Guilbert, G (TPAU). 2001. 'Some Fieldwork in Derbyshire by Trent & Peak Archaeological Unit in 1998-99', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 121.
  • <22> Photograph: Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA). Slide Collection. 3319.1-35.
  • <23> Photograph: Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA). Black and white photograph collection. 410.2A-3A, 27A-32A; 414.6-10; 452.27A-30A.
  • <24> Unpublished document: Mora-Ottomano, A (ARS). 2014. Mam Tor, Derbyshire: Archaeological Watching Brief. HER Doc. No. 1512.
  • <25> Article in serial: Barnatt, J. 1999. 'Prehistoric and Roman mining in the Peak District- present knowledge and future research', Mining History: The Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society.
  • <26> Unpublished document: Waddington, C and J Brightman (ARS Ltd). 2012. Peak District Hillforts: Conservation and Management Audit.
  • <26> Unpublished document: Waddington, C and J Brightman (ARS Ltd). 2012. Peak District Hillforts: Conservation and Management Audit.



Grid reference Centred SK 1275 8373 (316m by 410m) (Centre)

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Related Events/Activities (5)

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Record last edited

Nov 13 2018 12:34PM

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