Arbor Low Henge and Stone Circle

English Heritage

Archaeology Index

A vist by Jim Knowles

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Composite kite aerial photo.

© Jim Knowles

Arbor Low is one of the most important archaeological sites in the East Midlands. The site can be found high up on grassy moorland 10 miles SE of Buxton. The prehistoric complex is a type 2 henge, dating from 2500 to 1500 BC, with a recumbent stone circle in its interior. The massive ditch and bank stand today at 2.1 metres in height forming an area of 79 by 75 metres in diameter. The internal platform containing the stone setting is 40 by 52 metres in diameter. There are two breaches in the bank and ditch system to the NW and SW respectively and can be considered causeway entrances. The SW bank has been re-modelled sometime later with the addition of a large round barrow built into the entrance.

Within the henge interior are around 50 limestone blocks forming a large stone ring. All of the stones are lying flat and no holes have been found to suggest they were ever up right. In the centre are a group of further stones known as a ‘cove’. This has been suggested as a small shelter/room (3-4 metres wide) to obscure the ritual that was happening from the outside world. A grave was removed to the east of the cove which contained possible human remains during an earlier antiquarian intrusion.

Just to the SW, abutting the bank, is a low bank and ditch running off towards the rear of the woods in the same direction. This could be some processional boundary or a later addition. Just to the north of the woods is a further large barrow (Neolithic oval barrow with an Early Bronze Age round barrow built into it) known as Gibbs Hill.

Most of the features have been excavated (I use this term loosely, especially for the early periods) from the 1750’s onwards until the early 20th century. More recently geophysical survey has been carried out in the locality adding to the story of this amazing environ.
Arbor Low and is a very impressive and has obvious parallels to Cairnpapple in West Lothian. There are numerous other features in the surrounding landscape that require further examination, especially the Roman road and numerous burial mounds. This makes the area very interesting for more advanced techniques at a future date.

My visit to the prehistoric complex has been long overdue, but as usual the one day I visit the drizzle is coming down in clouds and the wind is gusting. Even so I was determined to get the rig air borne and try and get some images at least. The lighting was very flat and the field was covered in sheep. A kite seems to be an amazing sheep herder, may be it looks like a large raptor to your average sheep, but the entire flock extricated themselves into the Gibbs field. The wind was blowing to the SW and I could not get into the Gibbs Field with the rig due to a large bull, so I did not chance that one. Overall, a wet day with some success. I will return.


© Jim Knowles

A basic 3D model created by merging a number kite aerial images into Photoscan and then transferring the result into Maya to create a basic mesh. The model has a basic surface added to it and a simple light model animated across its surface to highlight any potential features. The KAP images can then be replicated in the model and examined for further potential from different viewpoints.