O King Arthur, the mythical ruler of Camelot, may be best known for pulling the magical sword Excalibur out of a stone, but there is another rock formation that bears his name hidden in the English countryside.
Archaeologists are excavating for the first time a 5,000-year-old Neolithic tomb called Arthur’s Stone in honor of the legendary medieval king. The project is the result of a partnership between researchers from the University of Manchester, in England, and English Heritage, a charity that preserves hundreds of historic buildings in England.
Arthur’s Stone is in Herefordshire , in the West Midlands region of England, close to the Welsh border. The monument consists of a large capstone supported by a series of vertical stones. Visitors can book tours to see the monument and learn more about the excavations.
The ruins are an important part of British history, but little is known about them. The excavations at the site are expected to reveal more about the island’s ancient inhabitants, said Julian Thomas, a professor of archeology at the University of Manchester who is leading the project.
It is likely that the tomb was used as a resting place for dead human bodies, which were left to decompose in the chamber and then rearranged after the flesh rotted and only clean bones remained, he said.
Nothing was found in the chamber itself, and it was likely disturbed in early modern times, Thomas said.
In previous excavations in the surrounding area, the team discovered an extensive avenue of vertical posts leading south from the monument to the Golden Valley, a valley beneath the hills where the tomb is located, he said. The beginnings of the path were found last year.
Additionally, the monument’s ancient stone landmark remains intact along the south side of the structure, Thomas said. A cairn – a pile of human-created stones – surrounds the chamber where the dead were decomposed, he explained.
The legend behind Arthur’s Stone
Several stories that have emerged over the years link the legendary King of Great Britain to the tomb. One of the most famous tales says that King Arthur fought and killed a giant who fell backwards on top of the tomb, breaking it in two, Thomas said.
Another legend has suggested that the indentations in the keystone are where Arthur knelt in prayer, he said. As amusing as these myths are, there was no documented historical association between King Arthur and the structure, Thomas said. Furthermore, historians have not been able to confirm that King Arthur was a real person.
A greater historical significance
The tomb was built during a critical period in British history, when plants and animals were domesticated and pottery and polished stone tools were created, Thomas said. Large monuments have also become much more common, he said, and other sites like Stonehenge have been erected.