A rare inscribed stone has been discovered at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. The writing dates from the 7th century, and features Roman and Celtic names, as well as Christian symbols. (IMAGE: English Heritage/Christopher Ison)

A stone inscribed with 7th-century writing has been discovered during excavations at Tintagel Castle.

Found during a five-year project commissioned by English Heritage and undertaken by Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU), the two-foot-long piece of Cornish slate appears to have been used as a window ledge, and it is etched with an eclectic combination of Latin writing, Greek letters, and Christian symbols. Some of the markings are names, including the Roman ‘Tito’ (Titus) and Celtic ‘Budic’, as well as the Latin words ‘fi li’ (son) and ‘viri duo’ (two men).

While the form of the inscriptions suggests that they were made by someone still learning how to write, the author appears to have used both the informal style of writing mainly used for documents in the early medieval period, and a more formal script typically used in illuminated Gospel books. As literacy was predominately a privilege reserved for church scribes and the wealthy during this period, the stone lends further credence to the theory that Tintagel was an important royal site with connections stretching across Europe into the eastern Mediterranean. Finds from previous excavations on the headland also support this idea, including the remains of lavish meals featuring pork, fish, and oysters, as well as fi ne tableware from Turkey and decorated glassware from Spain.

The stone has been analysed by writing expert Michelle Brown, from the University of London, along with textual expert Oliver Padel. Michelle said, ‘The survival of writing from this period is rare and this is a very important find, especially in terms of the continuity of a literate Christian tradition in post-Roman Cornwall. The lettering style and language used, as well as Christian symbols exhibiting Mediterranean influence and contacts, all reveal precious clues to the culture of those who lived at Tintagel in the 7th century.’

This is not the first early medieval inscribed stone to be discovered at the clifftop site: another was excavated in 1998, bearing the name ‘Artognou’ (see CA 227). Like this previous example, the new find will undergo further analysis, including high-resolution scanning, which will hopefully reveal what tools were used for the engraving. The stone is now on display at Tintagel Castle.

This article appeared in CA 342.

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