An ancient palace was discovered at a site closely associated with the legend of King Arthur, and it’s shedding new light on life in Britain’s Dark Ages. It may even help play a role in determining if there’s any truth to the legend.
Four trenches dug at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall revealed the walls of buried buildings, including the thick walls of what is believed to have been a palace built between the 5th and 7th centuries.
According to the “History of the Kings of Britain,” written in the 12th century by Geoffrey of Monmouth, that’s when and where Arthur was conceived.
“It is showing there could indeed be some truth behind the earliest stories about King Arthur’s birth at Tintagel,” Graham Phillips, author of “The Lost Tomb of King Arthur,” told the Daily Telegraph.
“If nothing else, it means the legend about where Arthur was born isn’t so fanciful after all and deserves further investigation,” Phillips said. “It is going to start a whole new line of investigation by historians.”
Archaeologists told the BBC that the discovery doesn’t confirm any elements of the Arthurian tales, but they do offer insight on palace life some 1,500 years ago. Pottery and glass shards showed signs of far-reaching trade, including wine and olive oil imported from the Mediterranean.
Here’s a 3D look at one of the trenches at the site:
(Story continues below image.)
Win Scutt of English Heritage told the BBC that the walls revealed what was a “very dense settlement” at the site.
“It’s a complex of buildings and many people since the 1980s have argued that it’s a royal centre, and that it’s the royal centre of the kingdom of Dumnonia,” Scutt was quoted as saying. “We haven’t found any others, so it’s quite possible that this was the center, and maybe they were static.”
The Sun reported that the palace appeared to have been abandoned toward the end of the 6th century or beginning of the 7th as bubonic plague devastated the region.
The castle ruins at the site, a popular tourist attraction, date to roughly the 13th century, or well after the supposed time of Arthur, and a century after “History of the Kings of Britain” was written.
Although the castle may have been built to connect it to the legend, it’s not clear why Geoffrey of Monmouth chose the site in the first place.
“He associated Arthur closely with Cornwall, and Cornish legend may have preserved a folk memory of the earlier importance of the site, perhaps as a stronghold of the rulers of Cornwall,” the English Heritage website stated. “Geoffrey described its dramatic physical attributes, evidently appreciating its romantic nature.”
Historians dispute how much of the Arthurian legend is based on history. It’s not even known if Arthur himself was based on a real king or was purely a literary creation. But there’s no denying the impact the stories have had in popular culture, with tales passed down for a millennia. A new cinematic spin on the story, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” directed by Guy Ritchie, is set to hit theaters next year.
While the latest discovery at Tintagel may not shed light on the Arthurian legends, it’s already helping to paint a picture of a period of history where little is known.
“The discovery of high-status buildings ― potentially a royal palace complex ― at Tintagel is transforming our understanding of the site,” Scutt told the Independent. “It is helping to reveal an intriguing picture of what life was like in a place of such importance in the historically little-known centuries following the collapse of Roman administration in Britain.”