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King Arthur was Real? September 23, 1998
by Amélie A. Walker

Possible evidence of the existence of Arthur, the legendary warrior king, has been found at Tintagel in Cornwall. A Cornish slate with sixth-century engravings was found in July on the eastern terraces of Tintagel on the edge of a cliff overlooking the place traditionally known as Merlin's Cave. It was discovered under broken pottery and glass from the late sixth or seventh centuries during the re-excavations of an area last dug in the 1930s.

The 8 inch by 14 inch slate bears two inscriptions. The older, upper letters have been broken off and cannot be deciphered. The lower inscription, translated by Charles Thomas of the University of Glasgow, reads "Pater Coliavi ficit Artognov--Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built." The inscription is basically in Latin, perhaps with some primitive Irish and British elements, according to Thomas. The British name represented by the Latin Atrognov is Arthnou. Geoffrey Wainwright of English Heritage says that the name is close enough to refer to Arthur, the legendary king and warrior. Thomas, however, believes that we must dismiss ideas that the name is associated with King Arthur. Christopher Morris, professor of archaeology at the University of Glasgow and the director of the excavations, feels that the script does not necessarily refer to Arthur, because King Arthur first entered the historical domain in the twelfth century.

The slate, part of a collapsed wall, was reused as a drain cover in the sixth century. The first secular inscription ever found at a site from the Dark Ages in England, the find demonstrates that Latin literacy and the Roman way of life survived the collapse of Roman Britain. It is the first evidence that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a nonreligious context, according to Morris.

Also found were sherds of Mediterranean amphorae, large vessels used for storing and transporting commodities, and a cache of fragments from a single glass vessel. The latter are from a large glass flagon of a type not found elsewhere in Britain or Ireland during this period, but found in Malaga and Cadiz from the sixth or seventh century. The find indicates, for the first time, a direct link between Spain and Western Britain at this time.

Tintagel has come to be associated with King Arthur as his birthplace, depicted by the Welsh monk Geoffrey of Monmouth in A History of the Kings of Britain (ca. 1139), and renewed by Alfred Lord Tennyson in Idylls of the King in the 1870s.

The Tintagel Excavations are a joint project sponsored by English Heritage and the University of Glasgow.

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© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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