How ancient riddle of Peak's stone circles is being solved

For generations we have wondered exactly what prompted neolithic man to build large stone circles across the Peak District.

Wednesday, 15th August 2018, 5:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th August 2018, 3:49 pm

More than 20 such monuments still exist — with our very own ‘Stonehenge of the north’ at Arbor Low and other significant sites at Stanton Moor, Gardom’s Edge and Barbrook among others.

Their meaning and uses lost through the ages, many have pondered how this custom was introduced to the area and what strange culture was responsible for construction.

Now, latest research at opposite ends of the British isles could be bringing us one step closer to answering this ancient riddle.

Scientists unveiled new research earlier this month which suggested the origins of the people who built Stonehenge, proposing that they came from the West Wales area.

They found that high temperatures of cremation can crystallise a skull, locking in the chemical signal of its origin.

The findings also tied in quite nicely with that fact that the first stones used to build Stonehenge were previously proven to have been transported from 150 miles away in Pembrokeshire.

Employing the same technique as that used at Stonehenge it would be possible to identify the origins of cremated remains found in Derbyshire’s neolithic tombs and cairns. Previous studies of buried remains in the Peak in 2015 — which measured strontium isotope ratios — show evidence that the region was notable for high levels of inward migration, second only to Scotland at this time. Analysis showed links to continental Europe, Scandinavia and Eastern Scotland.

And it’s towards the north which we turn for another exciting piece of research.

More than 700 miles from Stonehenge, a BBC programme ‘Britain’s Ancient Capital: Secrets of Orkney’ has been revealing more clues to the islands’ neolithic past.

Archaeologists from around the world are working on one of Europe’s largest digs that is ‘reshaping the map of Stone Age Britain’ at the Ness of Brodgar.

The series suggests that while London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, 5,000 years ago Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles and that cultural ideas spread out from there across Britain.

Certainly there are hugely important and impressive monuments there and a highly developed culture.

I found the similarity of Arbor Low and the Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar striking with both featuring the unusual inclusion of a henge — a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area — with a stone circle inside.

Indeed the shape of the stones is even similar and the choice of location with a far reaching horizon too.

It’s clear that the custom of stone circles was disseminated across the British isles by an advanced and influential culture.

But the question of who introduced it to the Peak District is currently still as baffling as ever.

Much previous research has focused on the questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ these monuments were built with few focusing on the origins of these intriguing people. Let’s hope science is now on track to bring us closer to an explanation. However, until then it is still fascinating to wonder.