Archaeologists have finally figured out how Arthur’s Stone, the famous Neolithic monument that inspired the ‘stone table’ in The Chronicles of Narnia, came to be.
Ever since the large quartz conglomerate rocks were first assembled, sometime around 3,700 BCE, this double-chambered tomb has remained a mysterious beacon of the past, perched on a Welsh hillside all by itself.
In that entire time, the highly protected, UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, known locally as Maen Ceti, has never been directly excavated, which means we know very little about how it was first built. Other similar sites in the region, found with skeletons, suggest it is probably a tomb of some sort.
Various myths surrounding the stone involve King Arthur, including one where the stone is a pebble cast from the fabled monarch’s shoe.
Another story involves the 6th century Welsh bishop, Saint David, who is said to have broken the stone with a swipe of his sword, angered by local Druid worship.
Yet apart from these myths and legends, historians and archaeologists have had little else to work with. Now, the first proper excavations slightly to the south of the monument have revealed a different story – one that extends far beyond a single lonely hillside.
The findings, which have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, suggest Arthur’s Stone was once part of a much larger ceremonial landscape.
When the tomb was first built, archaeologists say it was probably covered in a mound of compressed turf, with a series of posts to hold it in place. This long mound stretched into the nearby field, but rot caused it to collapse over time.
The mound was then rebuilt with a slightly different orientation.
While archaeologists say the second structure pointed to an area between Skirrid Hill and Garway Hill, the first mound likely faced Dorstone Hill.
In 2013, the hillside of Dorstone was also discovered to house three similar burial mounds, containing two ‘halls of the dead’, built roughly 6,000 years ago.
The date, structure, and orientation of Arthur’s Stone suggest these two hillside sites were closely connected.
“Each of these three turf mounds had been built on the footprint of a large timber building that had been deliberately burnt down,” says archaeologist Julian Thomas from the University of Manchester.
“Indeed, the block of upland between the Golden Valley and the Wye Valley is now becoming revealed as hosting an integrated Neolithic ceremonial landscape.”
Arthur’s Stone is not the only odd stacking of rocks found in the United Kingdom, but it’s probably the most famous. While the site looks like a lot of effort to build, its appearance is somewhat deceiving.
Instead of stacking these large stones on top of one another, the ground underneath the main rock was probably dug out to allow supporting rocks to slide underneath.
A long mound of dirt was then added over the top, extending all the way into the field to the south, which is where the recent excavations occurred.
What’s left today is probably only a fraction of what once existed.
“Although Arthur’s Stone is an iconic Megalithic monument of international importance, its origins had been unclear until now,” says Thomas.
“Being able to shine a light on this astonishing 5,700-year-old tomb is exciting, and helps to tell the story of our origins.”
The results from the recent excavations have yet to be published.