Arthur’s Stone is under archaeological investigation; memento of a battle, worship, sacrificial table or observation bump?

Arthur's Stone tijdens zonsondergang op midwinter. Foto genomen in de richting van Hay Bluff.

King Arthur defeated a giant at Arthur’s Stone in Herefordshire. During his fall, this giant left an imprint on one of the stones of these dolmen. The defeated giant was buried in the dolmen. Another explanation is that the impressions were formed when King Arthur went to pray at the site; it would be prints of his knees or elbows. And a third explanation is that the structure was erected to commemorate the battles of King Arthur.

Not everyone believes that King Arthur really existed. Those who believe that King Arthur, or a figure like him, existed, fall into two different camps. There are fervent adherents of a historical Arthur, a true fifth or sixth century British King, and those who argue that Arthur is a composite figure with features borrowed from several important figures of post-Roman Britain.

Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe supports the theory of Roman revival that led to the arrival of Arthur in British history. He points out that Artorius is a Roman name and it could have easily changed to Arthur over time. The dragon emblem was associated with both Roman emperors and Celtic leaders at the time, just as the status of Uther (Arthur’s father) is indicated by his name Pendragon.

If you want to know more about King Arthur, I refer you to King Arthur and megaliths and King Arthur and Stonehenge.

But not only King Arthur is associated with Arthur’s Stone. The area around the dolmen inspired CS Lewis for his fictional country Narnia and Arthur’s Stone was the inspiration for the stone table on which Aslan the Lion is sacrificed in ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’.

For those who have not heard of this book before, a short summary follows.

During World War II, four English children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, secluded for their safety in an old professor’s mansion – find their way to Narnia through an enchanted wardrobe. Also known as The Great Lion, Aslan is the creator and true king of the world of Narnia. He sings and roars Narnia to life: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. love. think. speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

Aslan appears to different people in different sizes, although he never changes himself; as people grow in wisdom and character, they can perceive more of its greatness. Aslan regularly removes people from Earth, both to help Narnia and to teach those people important lessons. He is generally a representation of all that is good.

Aslan is sacrificed on the big stone, the children mourn and want to leave

Mr. Beaver describes Aslan in chapter 17: “He will come and go. One day you’ll see him and the next you won’t. He doesn’t like to be tied up – and of course he has other countries to take care of.”

Aslan possesses a certain ubiquity and can manipulate, move, heal and manifest in various forms. His breath can heal those who are petrified, boost the morale of the unbelievers, and cause sleep for others. If Edmund is to be killed, Aslan offers to be sacrificed in his place. According to the laws of the deeper magic, Aslan was then brought back to life as an innocent victim. After his resurrection, he brought the petrified Narnians to life in the White Witch’s courtyard and led them to the First Battle of Beruna, which he quickly won by killing the White Witch.

The big stone is broken and Aslan has been brought back to life

Arthur’s Stone stands next to a lane just below the top of Dorstone Hill and offers beautiful views of the Black Mountains on a clear day. Even today it lies on a parish boundary. From the Isles of Scilly to far into Scotland, at least one hundred and sixty places are associated with Arthurian lore. “Connecting Arthur to elements in the landscape began in the ninth century,” Lacy and Ashe write in the Arthurian Handbook. Arthur sites fall into several categories:

– those associated by name with Arthur,
– those mentioned in different versions of the legend,
– those not explicitly mentioned, but associated by various claims in the past.

The structure is located at Hay-on-Wye and is located near the border between Wales and England. Arthur’s Stone is one of the most important Stone Age monuments in England.

There are now nine supporting stones on the site and an enormous capstone of 25 tons. A large part of the capstone has broken off and has fallen into the room.

De gebroken deksteen

Arthur’s Stone is a very impressive Neolithic burial chamber that has been well studied since its first description in the early 18th century, including by local antiquarian Arthur Watkins. He writes that the structure was first called a cromlech, but later referred to as a dolmen. Watkins writes that the remains of a mound can be seen, he thinks that this mound was used to drag the capstone above the supporting stones. When Watkins described the site, the capstone had been broken for several centuries, he says is 18½ feet long and 12 feet wide.

Watkins further writes that several highly skilled observers, such as the astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer and Admiral Boyle Somerville, have shown by careful observation of a number of dolmens that they often align in their major axis with sunrise on the longest or shortest day, or the equinox, or the half-quarter of an hour in between. These days are still celebrated through customs that come without interruption from prehistoric practices. Watkins also reports that the entrance usually points in such a direction. Lockyer suspects they were observation caves of a cult of skilled solar observers, who provided early humans with a calendar for seasonal cultivation. He points out that the later use of dolmen (where people were buried here) does not refute this, because if so, according to him also churches would have been erected only for the burial of persons and not as places of worship (because here too human leftovers).

Watkins further writes that observers occasionally show that the alignments of dolmen along the axis point to a distant hilltop, or standing stone, or barrow (burial mound) at an elevation, thus aligning with the topographical alignments he has demonstrated as the ‘old straight path’.

W.H. McKaig has made a rough plan of the Arthur’s Stone showing that the axis is 24° west of true north, and this cannot be connected to sunset or sunrise in any season.

Watkins mentions the two curious notches cut into the western edge of the large flat stone, this stone is 12 feet from the capstone and is perpendicular to the axis. Watkins has seen similar indentations on illustrations of other ancient stones and, without defining their exact purpose, suspects that they serve for observational observation. They are the only evidence he sees that one of the stones has been “worked” on, other cup markings are absent.

The plan shows a structure resembling a stone-edged corridor on the north side, curving to the west. Such an entrance, referred to by Lockyer as a “creep passage,” is quite well known in Neolithic structures with chambers. Because one side of the deck mound has not been excavated, it is possible that elements not listed in McKaig’s plan may be present.

Seventeen meters from the monument, lying in the ditch, is a high long stone, probably a pointer Stone. This stone is located at an azimuth (or angle to true north) of 305° and according to a table of latitude of Hereford which Admiral Boyle Somerville kindly prepared and sent to Watkins, this is the correct angle for sunset on Midsummer’s Day (with a horizon at an altitude of 3½°, which is about the case here). This alignment goes right up to Castleton Hill point, whose root ball overlooking the Wye is a prominent viewpoint. Earlier observers speak of a stone ring about two meters away from the monument, but those stones are no longer visible when Watkins visits the site.

Watkins notes several more road alignments. He reports that people walking from the west (Merbage) may notice that the hill is aligned with the center of the Green Way, and that the footpath curves around it and realigns behind it, where indeed the earlier narrow path begins. can be seen in the southern ditch of the broad road. This alignment (for one-sixth of a mile) coincides with today’s Green Way, and continues across land (azimuth 109°) and heads west through Newton Tump, 1¾ miles away. In the other direction it passes through several well-known farms, through the cottage near Clehonger with the ancient town of Goldenpost and into the center of the circular and prehistorically raised forest at Haywood Forest (called Merryhill or Beechwood). At this odd spot of Merryhill, the alignment also comes along the mile-long Monnington Walk through Monnington Church, and a third alignment which runs the length of Offa Street in Hereford, passing through St Peter’s Church and the Cathedral Tower.

Another contemporary trail aligns exactly with Arthur’s Stone Mound from Dorston, the line runs from Bal Mawr on the Black Mountains through the cross in Dorston churchyard and ends at the well-known mound above Bredwardine called The Knap. The azimuth of this path is 15°. A third alignment through Arthur’s Stone is at an azimuth of 49°, and this, according to Admiral Somerville’s table, is the Midsummer’s Day sunrise angle for an elevation of the horizon of ½°, which is approximately the angle the sun would make. as he rises here over the ridge. This alignment begins at Cefn Hill (1593 ft.) and passes through a mountain bed called the Gold Post, through a field on the Dorston-Hay road called Standing Stone Field. This Standing Stone was illustrated in the Transactions at the time of Watkin’s description of Arthur’s Stone) and has been moved to create a gatepost at the entrance to the field. The alignment continues through the Golden Well in the Bell Alders (a place that probably gives the name to the Golden Valley), Arthur’s Stone and Bredwardine Castle.

Watkins further writes that he has seen somewhere reference to excavations at this monument, which has been turned over to the government, and to stonemasons or hammers that have been found, but he cannot find any reference to this in our Transactions, nor can he find any information about the whereabouts of the finds. The ground is seriously disturbed and this makes future research difficult. Watkins regrets that no record of past excavations can be found. He doubts whether the unsightly, unclimbable iron fencing that now surrounds the monument is really necessary: ​​according to him it is a major obstacle to further research. Watkins reports that similar dolmen have been found, two in Carnarvon and one in Gower (called Arthur’s Quoit).

In 1870, fifty years before Watkins described the alignments, William Henry Black in Hereford gave a lecture to the British Archaeological Association (titled Boundaries and Landmarks) in which he suggested: -cover Europe”. Watkins remembered this theory when he was driving in the hills of Breda.

What stands out about Watkins’ ideas (as opposed to those who have seized upon his ideas and come up with “alternative” concepts) is his idea that a real ley has a prominent natural feature at one end and an artificial “perception bump” at the other. All the features in between are the result of using a straight route between these two extremes. As for Herefordshire, he says: “In some districts – such as Salisbury Plain and the Yorkshire Wolds – the groups of adjacent burial mounds are so numerous that it is probable that most of them were built only as burial mounds, not observation mounds. This is not the case in the studied environment.”

Recent research has shown that the capstone of Arthur’s Stone would point to Skirrid Fawr; a site in the southeast between Skirrid Hill and Garway Hill (before the capstone broke and slipped).

Photo of Arthur’s Stone, taken by Arthur Watkins

Arthur’s Stone dates to between 3,700 BC. to 2,700 BC. It is unlikely that the monument was built only as a tomb. It is possible that rituals of the ancestors took place here. It is likely that the Neolithic people periodically gathered at the structure located in an area of ​​summer meadows. Until the mid-19th century, celebrations with dance were held at the stone and a Baptist service was held there on the fourth Sunday of July. 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.

Only the large stones of the room are still present, this room was covered by a mound in earlier times. On the side of the deck mound was a rectangular entrance. There is an isolated stone at the site that was likely part of a false entrance, perhaps serving as a visual focus for ceremonies.

Perhaps more will become apparent about this impressive structure located above Dorstone in ’the Golden Valley’, as English Heritage recently announced that an archaeological survey will be carried out. Together with the University of Manchester, English Heritage will try to unlock the secrets of this Neolithic edifice. The excavation has already begun; sods are removed.

Excavation at Arthur’s Stone

Already before the thirteenth century, this dolmen was associated with King Arthur. Incidentally, this occurs at several dolmen in Wales and England (see also King Arthur and megaliths and King Arthur and Stonehenge). The stories we know about King Arthur are the result of a combination of English ethnocentrism and politicized romanticism. King Arthur has become a symbol of Britishness worldwide, the “king once and to come”. The mere mention of Arthur can turn an archaeological investigation into a media frenzy.

An informant of Francis Kilvert told him in 1878 that Arthur’s Stone was much larger in the past; a hundred sheep could lie in the shadow of Arthur’s Stone. The site was indeed robbed of many stones (for construction purposes). The altar stone at Peterchurch is believed to be from Arthur’s Stone. This Norman church, dedicated to St. Peter, is built on the unusual basilica model with four instead of three rooms. The foundations of the church are thought to date back to 786 and parts of the Saxon walls can still be seen in the sanctuary.

Arthur’s Stone; a sandstone dolmen above the Golden Valley, it is easy to see that the capstone is broken.

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 lies on a parish boundary.

Arthur’s Stone is not known to have been excavated before (although Watkins says it has), but archaeological digs at nearby dolmen have uncovered human remains, flint, arrowheads and pottery. Archaeological research was conducted last year in a field just south of Arthur’s Stone. The universities of Manchester and Cardiff are collaborating on this. It was shown that Neolithic finds could be found outside the protected area around the dolmen. The results of this archaeological investigation led to changes in ideas about the orientation and origin of the site.

Arthur’s Stone was formerly believed to have stood in a wedge-shaped cairn, similar to those found in the Cotswolds and South Wales, but Professor Julian Thomas of Manchester and Professor Keith Ray of Cardiff found that the monument originally extended into a field to the south west . The structure may have been in the form of a low grassy mound with rounded ends. Professors Thomas and Professor Ray will also lead the current excavations, with the participation of students from Cardiff University and a range of US institutions.

The team of experts is supplemented by volunteers. Interested parties can book a tour on the site. Professor Thomas said of the site: “Arthur’s Stone is one of the country’s remarkable prehistoric monuments, set in a breathtaking location, but we know little about it. Our work seeks to restore it and bring this edifice to its rightful place in the story of Neolithic Britain.”

I am very curious about the results of this archaeological investigation at Arthur’s Stone. Archaeological research is also currently being carried out in the Netherlands at a Neolithic structure. Under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Daan Raemakers, excavated near hunebed D34 in Drenthe. Remarkable discoveries have already been made there and I am sure there is still much to learn about the structures that the Neolithic cultures left us all over Europe.

Marinda Ruiter

Arthur’s Stone

This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: Arthur’s Stone wordt archeologisch onderzocht; aandenken aan een strijd, verering, offertafel of waarnemingsbult?


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