King Arthur and megaliths

In Arthur's Land, 1911 (the drawing shows a dolmen and various stones)

Arthur is squire to the arrogant Kay, son of Arthur’s foster father Ector, and the boy is shocked to learn that he has forgotten Kay’s weapons. Much to his relief, he sees a sword and wants to get it for Kay. Effortlessly he pulls it out of the stone…

Arthur is an interesting figure. Not only did he become famous locally, but now he is known all over the world. Incidentally, he was already known in the Middle Ages, far beyond the area where he lived.

Experts differ on whether Arthur actually lived. If he lived, this was at the time of the migrations: the waning days of the Western Roman Empire.

The fact is that there are countless manuscripts describing his exploits (and those of his knights). But the stories about Arthur circulated much earlier. His stories were passed on orally, as songs, in a large area, including in the Netherlands. Norman and Breton noblemen disseminated the Arthurian stories well before it was recorded in writing.

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King Arthur and the lands he conquered in the Chronicle of England
published ca. 1307 – 1327

At the end of the 16th century, interest in Arthur diminished, in this environment under pressure from humanism. Cheap books were still being printed, now they were no longer manuscripts, but the art of printing had made its appearance. These were just lame summaries of the earlier stories.

During the romance, there was a revival. An escape from industrialization to the night, ghosts and elf kings. People liked to stay in graveyards and in ruins. And it was discovered that the folk culture had preserved a powerful heritage for centuries. The interest in a Celtic past later resulted in militant nationalism, as we now know. But it also led to studies of medieval manuscripts, still a field of study. And stories about Arthur are still told, they are very popular. You will not only come across the stories in books, they can also be admired on the silver screen.

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View of Arthur’s stone with goats in the foreground, ca. 1840

As mentioned, the stories circulated in a large area before they were put in writing. There are several depictions of Arthur that are older than the books in which his stories appear (such as the Pescheria portal in the Cathedral of Modena).

And there are countless locations, including many megalithic structures, named after Arthur or other characters from the stories.

But which sites can boast of a distant past, and on which sites was King Arthur’s fame later projected?

It is clear that the megalithic and other Neolithic structures are older than the time in which King Arthur lived (during the migrations). As in other lands, in folk tales, giants and heroes were associated with megalithic structures. The buildings were also named after giants and heroes.

But who is Arthur? A short description of his life, if you do not know him, follows. Arthur was the son of King Uther Pendragon, one of the rulers of a deeply divided Britain, and Igraine. Taking on the appearance of her husband Gorlois, Uther managed to get into bed with Igraine and father Arthur. Uther was killed on the battlefield trying to unite Britain under one king.

Immediately the magician Merlin placed the boy in the court of a local nobleman, where he could grow up undisturbed. Only Merlin knew who the boy really was. So Arthur later drew a very special sword from a stone and because of that he was recognized by everyone: Arthur was the rightful king.

Arthur defeated countless giants, conquered a large area and brought peace. In peacetime his knights had miraculous adventures.

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Arthur depicted on a window in St Nectan’s Church, Hartland, Devon

Arthur had conquered a huge army and wanted to attack Rome, for they wanted him to pay taxes. His power was broken by the infidelity of his wife Guinevere (from a noble Roman family) and his cousin Mordred (son of Anna, daughter of Igraine).

Some stories say Arthur died, others say he was taken to Avalon to heal.

Baby Arthur is given to Merlijn in The Romance of King Arthur – 1917
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Arthur meets Guinevere in
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights – 1903
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Koning Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table see the Holey Grail – 1470

The stories about the Round Table and the Holy Grail are now inextricably linked to the stories about King Arthur. This would be the third very important table, after the table of the last supper and the table of the grail. According to some stories, he had this table made so that no ranks existed: the knights of the round table were equal in everything. In the Mabinogion, the knights even have supernatural powers. The numbers of knights that appear in the stories vary greatly. There are stories about 12 knights at the table, but also about 1600 knights who were able to take a seat. That must have been an impressive table…or was it something else?

There is speculation that Bwrdd Arthur (meaning “Arthur’s Table” or “Arthur’s Table”) could be a candidate for the legendary round table, arguing that the meaning of table has changed over time from a meeting place to a piece of furniture. It is a 164m high limestone hill with a flat top on the Isle of Anglese.

But there are more places that would be King Arthur’s Round Table. King Arthur’s Round Table is a Neolithic henge in the village of Eamont Bridge in Cumbria, England, about 2 kilometers south east of Penrith. It is 400 meters from Mayburgh Henge. Some Roman amphitheatres are also mentioned as a possible Round Table.

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Mayburgh and King Arthur’s Round Tables, 1769
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King Arthur’s Round Table (Cumbria)

Other henges are also said to have been the residence of the mythical king. King Arthur’s Hall is a megalithic enclosure on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England. It is thought to be a late Neolithic or early Bronze Age ceremonial site. The monument consists of fifty-six stones arranged in a rectangle with an earthen wall around it and measures approximately 20 by 47 meters. The interior fills with water.

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King Arthurs Hall, megalithic monument at Bodmin Moor

Arthur’s historical roots lie in Wales, and more specifically North Wales. The story of Myrddin (Merlin) and King Vortigern at Dinas Emrys (Beddgelert) tells that the summit of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, was home to Rhitta Gawr.

Rhitta Gawr was the strongest and most violent of all the ancient giants. In those days there were many kings who ruled over different parts of this island, all fighting for supremacy against each other, defending their lands from the onslaught of the giants who attacked from their mountain caves.

Rhitta wanted to steal more than the occasional sheep or cow. He began by attacking Nynio and Peibio, two kings whose kingdoms had been weakened after years of war. An army of giants, bandits, and vile creatures had gathered from the grim, darkest crevices of the mountains, and they easily overthrew the feeble armies of Nynio and Peibio.

Rhitta Gawr & King Arthur by Walter Crane

Rhitta shaved off the beards of the slain kings, the symbol of their strength and masculinity, and wove them on his cloak as a token of his victory. He conquered almost all the kings except one… A messenger was sent to King Arthur’s court, who ordered him to shave off his beard and send it to Rhitta. When Arthur refuses to shave his facial hair, the monster challenges Arthur to a fight.

Arthur overcame the giant with a blow that cut the giant in two. Arthur’s knights then buried Rhitta and built a burial chamber over the body at the top of the mountain. The area then became known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr, translated as ‘The Great Tomb’.

It is also said that Arthur’s last battle took place on Mount Snowdon. Some stories describe how Mordred, Arthur’s nephew, gains control of the kingdom while Arthur is at war with Rome. Mordred usurps the throne in Arthur’s absence and forges a relationship with Arthur’s wife Guinevere, a lady from a noble Roman family. The news reached Arthur and he returns home to fight at the Battle of Camlann. A huge battle took place where Arthur and his knights fought against Mordred and were knocked down by enemy arrows. This area is now known as Bwlch y Saethau or the Pass of the Arrows. Mordred was eventually killed, but Arthur is also said to have been mortally wounded.

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The summit of Mount Snowdon in Wales
ca. 1880

According to some stories Arthur was brought to Avalon to heal, but in other stories the mighty king dies in battle. Legend has it that Arthur’s body was covered in stones, which to this day is still known as Carnedd Arthur (Arthur’s Cairn). After his death, his knights are said to have buried themselves in a cave at the top of nearby Mount Y Lliwedd, where they lie asleep, ready to fight for Wales against their enemies, led by King Arthur.

Several locations in the Preseli region claim to be his final resting place – Cromlechau Meibion ​​Arthur in Nevern, Garn Arthur, Cerrig Meibion ​​Arthur in Mynachiog-Ddu and Bwrdd Arthur in Llanboidy.

The Bedd Arthur stone circle (also called Beddarthur – “Arthur’s tomb”) is located in the Preseli Hills, northwest of Mynachlog-ddu (also Mynachlogddu), near Cardigan in Pembrokeshire in Wales. According to local folklore, it is the final resting place of King Arthur. It is a horseshoe-shaped oval stone ring, which has led to speculation that it influenced the horseshoe shape of Stonehenge’s blue stones. Bedd Arthur is located on the ‘Golden Road’, which runs through the Presili hills past Carn Menyn (site of the blue stones of Stonehenge).

The stones appear to lean inward, suggesting they were originally placed on the flanks of a now-vanished mound. There is also a “truncated end”, similar to the portal on some elongated Neolithic burial mounds. So there may have been a burial chamber in the center of the stone setting: it would not be unusual for the mound itself to have been removed by erosion or grave hunters.

Bedd Arthur now consists of 13 small (only about 0.6 m high) standing in situ and two fallen stones.

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Bedd Arthur overlooking Carn Menyn, site of the blue stones found at Stonehenge

Arthur’s Stone (Welsh “Maen Ceti” or “Maen Cetty” or also called “Great Stone of Sketty”) is a megalithic site in Wales. The megalithic complex is located almost at the highest point of the Cefn Bryn, a ridge up to 150 m high and eight kilometers long that runs along the Gower Peninsula. It consists of a dolmen with a large capstone that rested on twelve narrow, upright supporting stones. The capstone was broken before 1693, originally it was about 4.0 by 3.0 by 2.2 m high and weighed an estimated 30 to 35 tons. The largest part weighs about 25 tons, the largest of the broken parts rests on the floor.

There are numerous legends about the complex. St. David is said to have broken the capstone with his sword while fighting a Celtic druid. According to another legend, the stone came from King Arthur, who found it in his shoe in Carmarthenshire and threw it across the mouth of the Loughor to Gower. Through contact with the legendary king, the stone grew to its enormous size and since then other stones have held it up in admiration.

The stone was already an attraction in the 15th century. For example, in 1485, after landing at Milford Haven and en route to the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor is said to have made a detour to Gower to see the stone. In the 16th century, the stone was considered the most important prehistoric site in Britain, along with Stonehenge and Silbury Hill.

The name of the structure was first found in writing in the 16th century, but the name is said to be older. In 1870, Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson was the first scientist to explore the facility. He pointed out the path on which, according to legend, an apparition of the legendary King Arthur on a white horse should have been seen, like the remains of a menhir lane. As one of the first archaeological sites in Wales, Arthur’s Stone fell under the protection of the Ancient Monuments Act in 1882.

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Arthur’s stone, according to one of the legends, was thrown by Arthur over the mouth of the Loughor to Gower

Coetan Arthur dolmen, also known as Arthur’s Quoit (not to be confused with Carreg Coetan Arthur, near Newport) is the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber. It dates from around 3000 BC. The site, located on the hillside close to St Davids Head in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is the collapsed chamber of what is believed to be a passage grave (which had a circular burial mound). The massive keystone measures approximately 6 meters by 2.5 meters and is supported on one side by an orthostat about 1.5 meters high.

A Quoit is a portal tomb from the Neolithic in which several vertical megaliths support the single cover slab. These dolmens were also called cromlechs in the 19th century. Such structures can be found in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland. There they are known as “tripod dolmen”; a special form of portal graves.

In 1769 William Borlase first explained the origin of the name Quoit in a publication: when describing the Chûn Quoit he stated that the name can be traced back to the disc-shaped keystone of these dolmen, the shape of which is reminiscent of a throwing disc (Quoit). The word Quoit first appears in the 14th century, initially meaning a flat throwing stone or throwing ring, and is also used for the traditional throwing game of the same name. According to legend, King Arthur himself played the game with the stone of this tomb.

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Arthur’s Quoit
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Arthur’s Quoit with sunlight

Arthur’s Stone, Herefordshire, is also associated with the mythical king. Arthur’s Stone is a very impressive Neolithic burial chamber that has never been excavated, although well studied since its first description in the early 18th century (including by local antiquarian Arthur Watkins). It stands next to a lane just below the top of Dorstone Hill and offers beautiful views of the Black Mountains in clear weather.

Arthur’s Stone is dated to 3,700 BC. – 2,700 BC. and is located on the edge of a hill overlooking both the Golden Valley and the Wye Valley. The Brecon Beacons can also be seen in the distance. The structure is bounded to the north by a minor road (Arthur’s Stone Lane) which bisects what would originally have been the site of the elongated burial mound.

The tomb is topped by a large capstone estimated to weigh more than 25 tons. The capstone rests on nine uprights and there is a curved, 4.6 meter long access passage. In the north, there was once a bowl-marked stone, the Quoit Stone. The bowl is no longer clearly visible and now a stone south of the monument has become known as the Quoit Stone.

The tomb is one of several prehistoric monuments in western England and Wales associated with the Arthurian legend. Some stories suggest that the tomb was built to mark the site of one of King Arthur’s battles, while others say that the stones were already there when Arthur killed a giant on the spot, who fell on the stones, leaving nicks in one of the them. The resu was buried in the burial chamber. Still other stories suggest that the indentations on the Quoit stone were left by Arthur’s knees or elbows when he knelt there to pray.

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Arthur’s Stone; a sandstone dolmen above the Golden Valley
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This view to the south shows the entrance passage changing direction. This reorientation may have had significance in terms of spatial relationships to the wider landscape, as the tomb occupies a vantage point high above the valley floor. Even today it sits on a parish boundary.

Carreg Coetan Arthur is a megalithic monument near Newport in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. They are the almost complete remains of the chamber of a portal tomb from the Neolithic period. The towering dolmen has four upright supporting stones, the large capstone rests on only three. Typical features of the Quoit are: the H-shaped front with two high portal stones and the high striker plate in between; however, a portal stone was removed.

The great height of the portal is underlined by the shape of the keystone. The room behind the portal is small and rectangular. The stone on the west side is missing. A small bump in the ground about two meters in front of the front could indicate material for a mound. Nothing remains of the original overhang of the portal tomb at the rear.

Excavations have uncovered small amounts of burnt human bones, as well as two small pottery shards from cups and three pottery shards from an ornate pot. The radiocarbon dating suggests a time of origin of dolmens around 2700 BC. Nearby is the Berry Hill Fort.

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Carreg Coetan Arthur

It is not only in Great Britain that megalithic and other neolithic structures are named after Arthur. They are also found in France. The territory Arthur conquered was immense: from Ireland, Iceland, Gotland, the Orkney Islands, Norway and Gaul.

The forest of Paimpont (French: Forêt de Paimpont, Breton: Koad Pempont) is a forest located around the village of Paimpont in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany. It has been associated with the Brocéliande Forest (a legendary enchanted forest that had a reputation in the medieval European imagination as a place of magic and mystery) and many sites from the Arthurian legends, including Val sans retour (the valley from which you does not return), the tomb of Merlin (Merlin) and the fountain of Barenton.

According to legend, after seducing him, the fairy Viviane (Vivien) imprisoned Merlin in an invisible prison and then locked him in a grave. Merlin, who had fallen into a pit, had two huge stones thrown at him.

Today Merlin’s tomb is an important site of neopagan pilgrimages. Visitors to the site can leave flowers and a note for Merlin, often with a wish, or some sort of devotional object.

Merlin’s grave is located in the northern part of the forest, it is a remnant of a Neolithic covered dolmen structure. It has been largely destroyed with dynamite by treasure hunters after the site was associated with Merlin in 1889.

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Merlin and Vivien, am illustration for Tales of the Round Table door Anrew Lang, 1908

Hotié de Viviane is also known as the Maison de Viviane (House of Viviane) or the Tombeau des Druides (Tomb of the Druids). It is a circle of stones that dates back to about 4,500 years ago. It is located near the Val sans retour and has been known by this name since 1843.

The capstones have disappeared, there are still twelve slate supporting stones. The structure is 2.90 meters long and 1.60 meters wide. Slate with a circumference of 15 meters has been placed in the ground around the structure. A Stone Age ax (made of dolerite) was found. Grindstones, flints and shards of ceramics from the Neolithic were also found.

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Tombeau Merlin
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Hotié de Viviane

The Fontaine dite de Jouvence (Fountain of Youth) is a watering hole near Merlin’s grave. In the text by Chrétien de Troyes, the Knight Calogrenant comes to the fountain and is challenged by the Dark Knight who defeats him. King Arthur wants to see the miracle and decides to go there. But Calogrenant’s cousin, Yvain, outruns him and fights the Dark Knight. He defeats him and is forced to be the keeper of the fountain.

There is a third megalithic structure associated with King Arthur in the forest of Paimpont: Tombeau du Géant. The tumulus consists of three or four menhirs erected 5000 years ago. Three menhirs were reused as burial vaults in the Bronze Age about 3,500 years ago; the fourth is about ten meters further on the ground. Formerly covered by a mound of earth, the site is nicknamed “Tomb of a Giant” due to its impressive size. According to local tradition, it is the tomb of a giant who was defeated by the Knights of the Round Table.

There are countless other sites associated with King Arthur. To list all of these would be (like all stories and) too much. It is interesting to briefly discuss the animals of the mythical king. They too have become connected with stones in the past centuries. King Arthur’s dog is famous and megaliths are named after this animal, just like his horse.

Gwal y Filiast (“kennel of the greyhound” – also called Bwrdd Arthur, or Dolwilym) is located west of Llanboidy and east of the River Taf near St Clears in Carmarthenshire (Wales). Gwal y Filiast sits on a steep, wooded ridge. The more than 4 meters long capstone, which faces west towards the river, is supported by four load-bearing stones. The dolmen was covered by an oval or round mound of which some of the crown stones have been preserved. It could be the rest of a Cotswold Severn Tomb.

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Gwal y Filiast (“kennel of the greyhound”)

Twlc y Filiast (“Pig of the Greyhound” – also known as Arthur’s Table, Bwrdd Arthur, Ebenezer or Twlc Filiast) is situated on the banks of a stream in the hamlet of Llangynog near St Clears in Carmarthenshire, Wales.

According to an ancient legend, Cabal (aka Cavall), King Arthur’s dog, left his permanent footprint in a rock while chasing the boar Twrch Twryth. The tradition is preserved in the ”De Mirabilibus Britanniae” or ”Mirabilia” (Wonders of Britain), appended to Historia Brittonum (9th century). The miraculous nature of this cairn was that even if someone removed the stone with footprint, it would be back in its original spot the next day. This return to the original place occurs in more myths, such as that of the Black Madonnas.

Arthur’s steed, Llamrei, also left a hoof print, this happened during the battle with a water demon. Visitors can still see this hoof print: now called Carn March Arthur (the stone of Arthur’s horse).

Marinda Ruiter

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Carn March Arthur (the stone of Arthur’s horse).
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A stone from Carn Cavall (with Cavall’s footprint). The miraculous nature of this cairn was that even if someone removed the stone with footprint, it would be back in its original spot the next day.

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: koning Arthur en megalieten


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