The 5,000-year-old Arthur’s Stone site could hold secrets from the Stone Age.
King Arthur of Camelot felled a giant. He pulled the magical Excalibur sword from rock. Despite these claims to fame, the legendary medieval king wasn’t real—but a 5,000-year-old tomb named after him certainly is, and archeologists are exploring it for the first time.
The tomb’s site, which includes a chamber formed by nine upright stones and a capstone estimated to weight more than 27 tons, has been linked to King Arthur since before the 13th century, according to the conservation group English Heritage.
With the legend claiming he struck down a giant who landed on the crags, the Arthur’s Stone site may not have any real King Arthur significance, but it still has the potential for a wealth of cultural relevance.
Researchers from the University of Manchester have teamed up with English Heritage to both promote the site through tours and to excavate the tomb for the first time, all with the hopes of learning more about the ancient inhabitants outside the village of Dorstone near the Welsh border.
While all that remains of the site are the inner chamber’s large stones, historians believe the site once housed a long, earthen mound covering the chamber, accessed through the side of the mound via a right-angled passage. English Heritage says “there is an isolated stone that probably formed part of a false entrance, perhaps providing a visual focus for ceremonies.”
Such a monumental site—both in size and significance—likely hosted community events far beyond burials. Ritual ceremonies were a likely use for the site, used in a similar way to the key structures found at Stonehenge. Researchers hope that the excavation uncovers more than the expected skeletal remains and sheds new light on the life of people in the area from around 3700 B.C. to 2700 B.C., especially since this was a time when pottery and polished stone tools were created.
While experts believe the chamber was disturbed in early modern times, researchers have already seen paths leading from the monument to a valley near the tomb’s location in the hills, potentially showcasing how important the site was for the local community.
“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 archeology in action,” Ginny Slade, volunteer manager at English Heritage, tells the Daily Mail.
As archeologists dig into a site said to have inspired C.S. Lewis’s stone table in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and plenty of King Arthur’s legendary tales, we may not get another Excalibur fable, but we could find something of even greater historical importance.