Has King Arthur been discovered at Tintagel?
Tintagel, on the North coast of Cornwall, is famed in legend as the home of King Mark (of Tristan and Isolde fame) and the possible place where King Arthur was conceived.
Archaeologically it became important in the 1930s, when Raleigh Radford excavated there and found some very unusual pottery, which he recognised as coming from the East Mediterranean in the 5th and 6th centuries AD – the very period when King Arthur may have existed. He suggested that it was a monastery, though this suggestion has recently been challenged, and it is now thought to be a trading centre under Royal patronage.
Recently Professor Christopher Morris, of Glasgow University, has been excavating there, and in 1998 he found an inscription which may throw new light on this.
The site at Tintagel is technically a peninsula, a near-island jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is still joined to the land, but the sea is gradually eating away the narrow neck of land that joins the ‘island’ to the mainland.
The ‘Artognov’ inscription
This inscription, carved on an ordinary piece of slate, appears to have two inscriptions – or rather graffiti – in two different styles.
The earlier one, at the top right, is in better (= Roman period? ) lettering, and appears to read AXE.
The more interesting inscription is that below, more faintly visible.
Almost immediately under the earlier inscription is the word PATER (= Father) though this is almost invisible on screen.
The second line begins at the same level as PATER, but then curves underneath it. It reads COLIAVIFICIT: presumably FICIT is the Latin FECIT – ‘made this’. The third line reads ARTOgNOV which may (or may not) be a form of Arthur. At the bottom right the words COLI and FICIT are repeated
Plan of Tintagel island
The island is joined to the mainland by the narrow tongue of land, bottom right. This is where the outworks of the stone castle, probably built by Richard, Duke of Cornwall in the 1230s, can still be found. The buildings of the earlier period, the so-called monastery are marked on the island. The current excavations are taking place on site C, on a ledge half way down the cliffs.
On this small ledge, two rectangular buildings were uncovered in the 1930s, and have been subsequently conserved. Recent excavations on an adjacent ledge produced radiocarbon dates ranging from the 4th to 7th centuries AD and these reconstructed buildings are probably of a similar date. The inscription was found, face-downwards, re-used as a drain cover, in a drain outside the building, just behind where the excavators are standing.
This is based on a fuller account in Current Archaeology 159, published in September 1998