A circular earthen mound near Stirling Castle has been linked variously to the legendary king, to British aristocrats and to Roman invaders, but its origins remain shrouded in history.
Now, for the first time, a team of archaelogists from Glasgow University is preparing to use hi-tech scanners to survey the ground beneath it, providing a clear insight into the mound’s beginnings.
The structure, often referred to as the King’s Knot, has long fascinated national historians. Despite the mysteries it may contain, however, it has remained undisturbed for fear of damaging it. The new project, scheduled to run next week, will provide a full geophysical survey of the entire area.
Stirling Local History Society (SLHS) and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society have secured funding from Historic Scotland and Stirling City Heritage Trust for the operation.
Dr Richard Jones, senior lecturer in archaeology at Glasgow University, said his team had little idea of what they might uncover.
“This is a fabulous opportunity to discover more about a site that has fascinated people down the centuries, and it’s all the more exciting because we really don’t know what – if anything – it will reveal,” he said. “The survey equipment we use will sense beneath the ground, showing us any lost structures and features up to a metre below the ground, irrespective of how old they are.”
John Harrison, chairman of the local history society, said the distinctive “cup and saucer” shape of the mound had changed over the years. There are several competing theories on its dates of origin,” he added.
“People have told stories about the King’s Knot for hundreds of years and it has become linked with all sorts of ideas. But its origins remain mysterious.
“The area was used as a garden in the 16th and 17th centuries. But when was the present ‘cup and saucer’ mound formed?
“Perhaps it was as late as the 1620s. But about 1375 the poet John Barbour says that ‘the round table’ was somewhere to the south of Stirling Castle and tradition continued to place ‘the tabilll round’ hereabouts. It is a mystery the documents cannot solve. But geophysics may give us new insights.”
Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who is co-ordinating the project, said the area around Stirling Castle contains “some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe”.
He said: “This investigation will be the start of a serious effort to explore, explain and interpret them. Is the Knot an ancient feature that Scotland’s monarchs reused, or was it a unique garden design?”
Richard Strachan of Historic Scotland said the operation “is important to help us discover more about Scotland’s past”.
He said: “The King’s Knot is not only a fascinating site, but also a very sensitive one, which means that geophysical survey techniques are ideal as they help reveal any archaeology below the surface, without causing it any damage.”
The survey begins on Monday, and is due to be completed by the end of next week.