5,000-year-old tomb discovered and linked to King Arthur

Archaeologists have started a dig at a 5,000-year-old tomb linked to King Arthur hoping to answer questions surrounding the site.

[July 15, 2022: Joe Stafford, University of Manchester]

Arthur's Stone is a Neolithic chambered tomb in Herefordshire's Golden Valley which has never previously been excavated. (CREDIT: University of Manchester)

Archaeologists from The University of Manchester have started a dig at a 5,000-year-old tomb linked to King Arthur, hoping to answer some of the mysteries surrounding the enigmatic site in the process.

The experts are working in partnership with English Heritage, which looks after Arthur's Stone in Herefordshire, to remove turf to expose and record particularly sensitive archaeological remains.

Arthur's Stone is a Neolithic chambered tomb which has never previously been excavated, but English Heritage say that similar examples in the same region have been found to contain incomplete skeletal remains of several people, together with flint flakes, arrowheads and pottery.

Arthur's Stone is a Neolithic chambered tomb in Herefordshire's Golden Valley which has never previously been excavated. (CREDIT: Getty Images/iStock Photo)

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Today, only the large stones of the inner chamber remains, which is placed in a mound of earth and stones whose original size and shape remains a mystery. The chamber is formed of nine upright stones, with an enormous capstone estimated to weigh more than 25 tonnes on top.

This illustration shows a cutaway reconstruction of Arthur's Stone, as it once looked. Today, the large stones that made up the structure's inner chamber are what's left. (CREDIT: Getty Images)

Like many prehistoric monuments in western England and Wales, this tomb has been linked to King Arthur since before the 13th century. According to legend, it was here that Arthur slew a giant who left the impression of his elbows on one of the stones as he fell.

Last year, experts excavated a patch of land adjacent to King Arthur's stone, but the first ever excavations of the tomb itself have only just commenced. Pictured is a plot of land immediately south of King Arthur's stone that was excavated starting last year. (CREDIT: University of Manchester)

More recently, the author CS Lewis is thought to have been inspired by the area when creating his fictional world of Narnia - with Arthur’s Stone the inspiration for the stone table upon which Aslan the Lion is sacrificed in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

In CS Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the 'stone table' (depicted here in the 2005 feature film) is the sacred place where Aslan, a talking lion, is killed by the White Witch. (CREDIT: Disney)

“Arthur’s Stone is one of the country’s most significant Stone Age monuments, and this excavation gives a really rare and exciting chance for members of the public to come and see archaeology in action,” said Ginny Slade, Volunteer Manager at English Heritage. “Our team of wonderful volunteers will be on hand to explain the latest findings as they happen - we’re asking people to book in advance to make sure everyone has a chance to enjoy this great opportunity.”

Researchers and volunteers are pictured during excavations of the plot last year, which revealed more about the origins of the Stone Age monument. (CREDIT: University of Manchester)

The dig follows research undertaken by the Universities of Manchester and Cardiff immediately to the south of the monument last year which has already changed the thinking about the orientation and origins of the site.

Arthur's Stone, which dates back to 3,700BC, is on a hilltop outside the village of Dorstone, Herefordshire (CREDIT: University of Manchester)

It was assumed that Arthur’s Stone stood within a wedge-shaped stone cairn, similar to those found in the Cotswolds and South Wales, but Manchester’s Professor Julian Thomas and Cardiff’s Professor Keith Ray found that the monument originally extended into a field to the southwest, and may have taken the form of a low turf mound with rounded ends. Professors Thomas and Professor Ray will also lead the upcoming excavations, with the participation of students from Cardiff University and a series of American institutions.

"Arthur’s Stone is one of this country’s outstanding prehistoric monuments, set in a breathtaking location - yet it remains poorly understood. Our work seeks to restore it to its rightful place in the story of Neolithic Britain." said Professor Julian Thomas.

English Heritage has also recruited a team of volunteers to work alongside the archaeologists to bring the history and stories of the stones to life with tours of the excavation site. Pre-booked tours are available to book online now.

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Note: Materials provided above by University of Manchester. Content may be edited for style and length.

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Joseph Shavit
Joseph ShavitSpace, Technology and Medical News Writer
Joseph Shavit is the head science news writer with a passion for communicating complex scientific discoveries to a broad audience. With a strong background in both science, business, product management, media leadership and entrepreneurship, Joseph possesses the unique ability to bridge the gap between business and technology, making intricate scientific concepts accessible and engaging to readers of all backgrounds.