Arthur’s Stone is being excavated for the first time

Arthur's Stone is being excavated for the first time
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(CNN)- 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 named after him hidden in the English countryside.

Archaeologists are excavating for the first time a 5,000-year-old Neolithic chambered tomb named Arthur’s Stone after the legendary medieval king. The project is the result of a partnership between researchers at the University of Manchester in England and English Heritage, a charity that preserves hundreds of historic buildings in England.

The Neolithic chambered tomb of Arthur's Stone was built in present-day Herefordshire, England.

The Neolithic chambered tomb of Arthur’s Stone was built in present-day Herefordshire, England.


The ruins are an important part of Britain’s history, but little is known about them. 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.

The tomb was likely used as a resting place for dead human bodies, which were left to decompose in the chamber and then rearranged after the flesh had rotted away and only clean bones remained, he said.

Nothing has been found in the chamber itself, and it was probably disturbed in early modern times, Thomas said.

In previous excavations of the surrounding area, the team uncovered an extended avenue of vertical posts leading south from the monument into the Golden Valley, a valley below the hills where the tomb is located, he said. The beginnings of the path were found last year.

Additionally, the monument’s ancient stone cairn remains intact along the south side of the structure, Thomas said. A barrow, a pile of stones created by humans, surrounds the chamber where the dead decompose, he explained.

The legend behind Arthur’s Stone

Multiple stories that have surfaced over the years link Britain’s legendary king to the tomb.

One of the most famous tales says that King Arthur fought and killed a giant who fell backwards onto the tomb’s cornerstone, splitting it in two, Thomas said.

Another legend suggested that the notches in the capstone are where Arthur knelt on his knees in prayer, he said.

As entertaining as those myths are, there has been no documented historical association between King Arthur and the structure, Thomas said. Furthermore, historians have not been able to confirm that King Arthur was even a real person.

Greater historical significance

The tomb was built during a critical time in Britain’s history when plants and animals were domesticated and pottery and polished stone tools were created, Thomas said. Large monuments also became much more common, he said, and other sites like Stonehenge were erected.

This is also the period when people from mainland Europe traveled to Britain, so building monuments like Arthur’s Stone would have been part of creating new social groups and traditions, Thomas said.

“The act of constructing such a massive building would certainly have been important as it would have brought people together to work, enhancing social solidarity and perhaps building prestige for the person(s) leading the work,” he said in an email.

While the tomb was probably only used for a couple of generations, it would have been an imposing site and a place of historical importance for succeeding generations, Thomas added.

Top Image: Archaeologists began excavating Arthur’s Stone in England in hopes of learning more about the Neolithic structure. (Adam Stanford/Aerial Camera/Cambridge University)

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