Witness archaeology in action at Arthur’s Stone
Throughout July, visitors to Arthur’s Stone will get the chance to witness excavations taking place that aim to unearth the mysteries surrounding the evocative site. Tours will be run by a team of volunteers from English Heritage who will explain the latest findings from the project, run by experts and students from The University of Manchester, Cardiff University, and a series of American institutions.
Situated in the hills above Herefordshire’s Golden Valley, Arthur’s Stone is a Neolithic burial chamber nearly 6,000 years old formed of nine upright stones with an enormous capstone – estimated to weight more than 25 tonnes and measuring 30 feet long by 7 feet wide – on top. Only the large stones of the inner chamber remain today, though these were once covered by a long cairn of smaller stones.
Last summer, archaeologists from The University of Manchester and Cardiff University were granted rare permission to excavate the site, which is in the care of the charity English Heritage, as part of an ongoing project to investigate early prehistoric Herefordshire. The project has significantly changed our understanding of Arthur’s Stone by showing that the monument had a complex structural history.
Originally the chamber may have been set within an earthen platform bounded by a timber palisade and approached by an avenue of upright posts. Later, the long cairn was constructed, bounded by finely-constructed drystone walls. It is now thought that Arthur’s Stone formed part of a ‘monumental landscape’ including the Neolithic long mounds and ditched enclosure on nearby Dorstone Hill.
This year, the excavation team, led by Professor Julian Thomas at The University of Manchester and Professor Keith Ray from Cardiff University, will turn their attention to the passage that enters the monument from the west. This is an area which has never before been excavated. They will also be exploring three areas in nearby fields, which may contain a prehistoric quarry and a previously unknown monument.
Our ongoing work to better understand this incredible site has already proved very fruitful. This year we are excavating on a more modest scale compared to 2022, but we could potentially uncover some significant findings that will help us piece together how Arthur’s Stone was built, and what its relationship might be to various Neolithic architectural traditions.
Over the centuries Arthur’s Stone has been an inspiration for storytellers as well as historians. The ancient site has links to King Arthur himself who, it is said, slew an almighty giant on the capstone, leaving indentations on its surface. The author CS Lewis is also thought to have been inspired by the Golden Valley and the Wye Valley whilst creating his fictional world of Narnia, taking inspiration for the stone table in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe from Arthur’s Stone.
English Heritage has recruited a team of friendly and enthusiastic volunteers to work alongside the archaeologists to bring the history and stories of the stones to life with free tours of the excavation site. Tours will take place three times daily between 2 – 23 July, except on Saturdays. Pre-booking online is essential as the tours are anticipated to sell out. Tours will start from Arthur’s Stone and participants are requested to park in the field next to the site, rather than on the road.
Ginny Slade, Volunteer Manager at English Heritage, comments: “The evocative Arthur’s Stone continues to attract worldwide attention, so it is a real privilege for us to be able to offer the chance for members of the public to come and witness the excavations. The tours proved exceptionally popular in 2022 and we are expecting the same this year, so please do pre-book if you would like the chance to come and listen to our volunteers explain the latest findings in the project.”
For more information on Arthur’s Stone visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/arthurs-stone.