- Archaeologists and students excavate a 5,000 year old monument from the Stone Age.
- The monument, Arthur’s Stone, has been the subject of various stories, including one about King Arthur slaying a giant there.
- The team hopes to find out how large the structure is in its entirety, estimating that it could be at least 100 feet long.
Corrections and Clarifications: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect length for the stone. It is 13 feet long.
Some say King Arthur killed a giant there. Others say he knelt down to pray and the imprints of his knees are etched in stone forever.
But archaeologists are trying to find out just how large the structure is and what really happened at Arthur’s Stone, a 5,000-year-old Neolithic chamber tomb in Herefordshire, England, near the Welsh border .
On July 1, a team of researchers began excavating the site, said Julian Thomas, professor of archeology at the University of Manchester who leads the project.
They will be there for the next four weeks, Thomas said.
After examining previous sites in the area, Thomas and other researchers realized that there was probably a lot more activity there than they initially thought.
“We found that there were more extensive traces of the monument,” he said.
Thomas said his team had found evidence of “a small low mound of grass surrounded by a wooden palisade” as well as traces of a “walkway of vertical timbers in a series of post holes”, which could indicate the presence of a ceremonial path. leading to the monument, he said.
Team member Mary Elizabeth Ong said their findings so far contrasted with what she had learned about people’s movements over time.
“What we have is evidence that these people were here long before it was originally reported,” Ong said.
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Arthur’s Stone is more than meets the eye
Arthur’s Stone was built around 3700 BC. AD, during the early Neolithic period, and sparked stories and tales passed down from generation to generation, Thomas said.
It was a time “of great change in this country where domesticated plants and animals were first introduced”, he said. “We have a whole series of these various kinds of megalithic tombs and long burial mounds, which are the funerary monuments of this period.”
Thomas said when most people see pictures of Arthur’s Stone, they’re probably looking at the chamber, a large cornerstone that weighs about 25 tons and is about 13 feet long and 7 feet wide, Thomas said.
The cornerstone is held on a series of standing stones, but that is only part of the monument, he said.
The structure as a whole can be part of a mound at least 100 feet long, or even longer.
“This chamber is located in a much larger mound,” he said. “It’s possible there were other chambers in this mound. That’s something we’re looking into.”
He said one possibility is that the monument could be elongated, oval or even trapezoidal, wider at one end than the other.
While the team isn’t entirely the first to excavate the site, it’s a “great honor” to work there because the area isn’t well understood, Thomas said.
He also stressed that the team does not interfere with human remains in any way.
“We don’t work in the bedroom,” he said. “We work on the periphery of the mound and we try to understand the construction of the mound. We do this with great respect and reverence. We are certainly not, in any sense, grave robbers or trying to play with all the human remains that could have been deposited here at any time.”
From California to England
The team is made up of about 55 people, including Ong, 20, who attends El Camino College in the Alondra Park area of California.
She joined the project through the Institute for Field Research, a nonprofit organization that helps students get field training.
“I worked on the trenches and cleaned up and dug a little deeper around Arthur’s Stone,” she said. “We found modern stones, and removing them we could see the ground below which is covered in quartz. There may be a mound under the Neolithic stone.”
The excavations, co-led by archaeologist Keith Ray of Cardiff University, are the result of a team effort between the University of Manchester, Historic England and English Heritage, a charity which manages historic monuments.
Thomas said the latest excavations took place as part of the Beneath Hay Bluff Project, a program which has been studying early prehistoric times in south-west Herefordshire since 2010.
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She’s from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email him at email@example.com.