Arthur’s stone is being dug up for the first time

Arthur's stone is being dug up for the first time
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(CNN) – King Arthur, the legendary ruler of Camelot, may be best known for carving the magical stone sword Excalibur, but there’s another rock formation in the English countryside that bears his name.

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

Arthur's Stone Neolithic chambered tomb was built in modern Herefordshire, England.

Arthur’s Stone Neolithic chambered tomb was built in modern Herefordshire, England.

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The ruins are an important part of British history, but little is known about them. Project leader Julian Thomas, professor of archeology at the University of Manchester, hopes the site’s excavations will reveal more about the island’s ancient inhabitants.

It is likely that the tomb was used as a resting place for dead human bodies, which were left to rot in the chamber, then rebuilt after the flesh had decayed, leaving only clean bones.

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

According to him, during previous excavations in the surrounding area, the team discovered a wide avenue of upright posts extending south from the monument to the Golden Valley, the valley below the hills where the tomb is located. The beginning of the road was found last year.

In addition, the monument’s ancient stone body continues unbroken on the south side of the structure, Thomas said. He explained that the pile of stones surrounding the room where the dead were dismembered was man-made.

The legend behind Arthur’s Stone

Numerous stories that have emerged over the years connect the legendary king of England with the tomb.

In one of the more popular tales, King Arthur fought a giant and fell on top of the tomb’s headstone, splitting it in two and killing it.

Another legend said that the recesses in the headstone were where Arthur knelt in prayer.

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

Greater historical significance

Thomas said the tomb was built at a critical time in British history, when plants and animals were domesticated and pottery and polished stone tools were created. Large monuments also became more common, he said, and other sites such as Stonehenge were also erected.

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

“The act of constructing such a huge building would certainly have been important because it would have attracted people to work, strengthened social solidarity, and perhaps created prestige for the person or persons who managed the work,” he said.

Thomas added that even if the tomb was only used for a few generations, it would be a great place and a place of historical significance for generations to come.

Top image: Archaeologists have begun excavating the Arthurian Stone in England, hoping to learn more about Neolithic architecture. (Adam Stanford / Aerial-Cam / University of Cambridge)

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