You are standing near the place where this stone head was found in a garden wall in the 1970s. Although it is not possible to be sure that this head dates from the Iron Age, it has many features associated with Iron Age stone heads including a simple form, flat face and nose, lentoid eyes, abstract features and a lack of facial expression. Another characteristic is the flattened head, possibly for the placement of votive offerings.
The Russet Well, which is in a private garden nearby, produces clear spring water that discharges into Peaks Hole Water. Our stone head may have formed part of a shrine where Iron Age farmers made offerings and sacrifices, perhaps as part of a springtime ritual. The Hope Valley is known to have been settled and farmed in the Iron Age, probably much earlier, and the imposing hillfort at Mam Tor originated in the late Bronze Age, around 1100 BC.
Since its discovery in the 1970s this stone head was associated with the goddess Brigantia. However following a more recent assessment (with thanks to Shelagh Hampton, 2015) it is now thought more likely to represent a male deity.
Given its possible role in prehistoric springtime rituals it is tempting to speculate that our stone head may have links to the Ancient Castleton Garland ceremony!
You can see the head in Castleton Museum which is located in Castleton Visitor Centre, Buxton Road, Castleton, Hope Valley, S33 8WN
According to Shelagh Hampton, the Iron Age people often called the Celts viewed the head as the most important part of the body, ‘the seat of the soul’. The severed heads of enemies were often displayed in houses and temples and images of the head are commonly found in Iron Age art. It is thought that heads had the ability to turn aside evil and bring about good fortune.
You can find out more about the Brigantes and the discovery of this head in The Brigantes And the Mam Tor Settlement written by Peter Harrison, former chairman of Castleton Historical Society. This article is also available on the Society’s website along with other articles about the local history of the area.