The legend of King Arthur might have been given entry into the realm of actual history with the unearthing of a Cornish palace that could very well be the birthplace of the man known as Arthur, Arturus Rex, and Arthur Pendragon, among others. Archaeologists have discovered thick palatial walls at Tintagel Castle and more than 150 fragments of artifacts that date back to around the 6th century, the time when King Arthur is believed to have lived.
As the Daily Mail reported on August 3, excavations taking place at the 13th century Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, which legend describes as the birthplace of the Once and Future King, Arthur, have uncovered a worldly assortment of fragments of pottery and glass, not to mention ancient 3-foot-thick walls, all dating from around the sixth century. Evidence suggests that, especially given that the artifacts are from various parts of the globe, those that lived in what can only have been a castle or palatial fortress must have been wealthy and lived their lives in relative luxury.
Among the artifacts recovered at the Tintagel Castle archaeological site, which is overseen by English Heritage, are late-Roman amphorae (double-handled containers, often made of ceramic), fragments of fine glass, and a rim of Phocaean red-slip ware, a fine tableware that is the first-ever discovered on the island’s southern side. Archaeologists have also found evidence that wine from Turkey was consumed at the older palace, which is believed to have been constructed sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries, and those that lived there used olive oil from the Greek Aegean. Found also was dinnerware consisting of cups from France and plates from North Africa.
English Heritage’s Properties Curator for the West, Win Scutt, says the discoveries are the “most significant” at Tintagel Castle in over a decade. ‘This is the most significant archaeological project at Tintagel since the 1990s,” he said.
The current archaeological project has been ongoing for five years, but there were artifacts recovered in the 1990s. In fact, in 1998, the now famous Artognou Stone was uncovered with other 6th century relics. (Artognou, which is pronounced “Arthnou,” only added credence to belief that Tintagel was Arthur’s birthplace.) As noted by Britannia.com, scientists have been reluctant to read much into the Artognou Stone, awaiting further evidence before committing the engraved slate as a definitive piece of proof of the Arthurian legend.
The legend of King Arthur is one of the most enduring bits of folklore/mythology of the last millennia, coming as it does via popular novels and poems and, in recent history, various media formats in forms of books of “historic” fiction and fantasy, illustrations and animations, and, of course, theatrical plays and movies. Much of what the modern world knows comes from Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th century book, Le Morte d’Arthur, a set of fanciful tales of King Arthur and the Arthurian legends surrounding the chivalric and heroic deeds of the the king and his Knights of the Roundtable, most notably the quest for the Holy Grail (said to be the chalice from which the Christian prophet and savior, Jesus Christ, drank from at the Last Supper). Then followed Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls Of The King, a now-classic work of poetry detailing the legends of King Arthur.
More modern renditions of the King Arthur legend include bestselling book series like Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series (which begins with the now classic The Crystal Cave), T. H. White’s The Once And Future King series (from which the Disney film, “The Sword In The Stone,” was adapted), and Stephen R. Lawhead’s quintet, The Pendragon Cycle. There have been dozens of films made concerning King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and the times of Knights of the Roundtable, including the upcoming Guy Ritchie-directed King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword and the iconic 1975 comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
And yet, given all the legends and the interpretations rendered over the centuries, historic documentation in Arthur’s own time is missing. And for his legendary ties to Christianity, he’s not even mentioned in the Venerable Bede’s 8th century tome, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. For this reason, many historians regard King Arthur as nothing more than a combination of folklore and myth. Still, according to the Daily Mail, both the 10th century-composed Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals) and the 12th century Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) chronicle King Arthur as a true historical figure, a leader who fought the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England during the 5th and 6th centuries.
King Arthur was not connected to Tintagel Castle until Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century fictional account of the history of Britain, Historia RegumBritanniae. This, of course, also provides no historical record upon which historians can point to the legend’s validity.
But with the newly-found walls and relics in Cornwall, more evidence is leaning toward at least some historical basis for the Arthurian legend. Perhaps. Or the archaeological finds at Tintagel Castle could simply be the ruins and artifacts of those who built a palace at the same site prior to the castle erected by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in the 13th century. Still, there is always the chance that legends and myths are built on the foundations of reality, and archaeology can aid in illuminating those realities as it reveals more and more of the past.
For instance, the biblical legend of the giant Goliath was provided a bit of credence, at least in some circles, by the unearthing of what archaeologists believe are the entranceways to the city of Gath, the biblical home of Goliath. LiveScience reported last year that the massive gates, called Goliath gates, were found at Tell es-Safi, an ancient settlement now in a national park in Israel, that has been occupied since the 5th millennium BCE.
And now, archaeologists have revealed evidence that could support the existence of the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.
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