"ARTHUR" Stone Discovered at TintagelA 6th century slate inscribed with the name "ARTOGNOV", the Latin of a British name Arthnou, has been discovered at Tintagel in Cornwall, the ruined castle cared for by English Heritage on behalf of the nation.
By extraordinary co-incidence the stone bears similiarities to the name of the mythical King Arthur, long associated with Tintagel. It also provides further evidence, together with other recent finds, of the existence of a possible royal site at Tintagel for the "Dark Age" rulers of Cornwall. This adds a new dimension to the debate about the possibility of there having been a real Arthur on whom the mythical figure was based.
The "Arthur" stone and other finds were discovered just days before the latest stage of an extensive research project to re-evaluate excavations before the war and the importance of Tintagel drew to a close. The project was commissioned by English Heritage and carried out by the University of Glasgow.
This dramatic discovery and other important finds this year will be used to justify further excavation.
Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "This is a find of a lifetime. It is remarkable that a stone dating from the 6th century has been discovered with the name Arthnou inscribed on it at Tintagel, a place with which the mythical King Arthur has long been associated, in a high status secular settlement.
"Despite the obvious temptation to link the Arthnou of this stone to either the historical or the legendary figure of Arthur, it must be stressed that there is no evidence to make this connection. Nevertheless, it proves for the first time that the name existed at that time and that the stone belonged to a person of status."
The slate, informally inscribed in Roman letters mainly in Latin, reads 'PATER COLIAVIFICIT ARTOGNOW which Professor Charles Thomas, the country's leading expert on Tintagel and inscriptions of this period, suggests can be translated as 'Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had (this) made/built/constructed.'
Artognou, which may originally have meant 'known-as-a-bear, known-to-be-a-bear', is likely to have been pronounced as ARTHNOU and is an early form of that name. It includes the name element 'Arth-', which was relatively common in "Dark Age" Britain.
Arthur as an historical figure almost certainly existed as a successful soldier fighting battles all over the country in the 6th century. There are many literary references to Arthur. The first is by Nennius, a 9th century writer, who collated scraps of earlier manuscripts. He was one of the sources for Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh author of the 12th century, who first introduced Arthur the romantic hero and associated him with Tintagel. The Norman writer, Wace, developed the tales of Arthur and added details including the knights of the round table. The Arthurian story was then developed in French and other foreign languages and was the basis for Sir Thomas Malory's famous chronicle "Le Morte Darthur", of the late 15th century. The 19th century poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, took the stories further in a series of connected poems which broadened the appeal of Arthur, the romantic hero.
It was previously thought that Tintagel was a Celtic monastery. However, work over the previous decade and objects found during excavations in the last few years suggest that Tintagel was a high status secular site, perhaps the court of an important, if not royal, Chieftain of Dumnonia (Cornwall). The inscription on the stone gives historians their first evidence that literacy within the ruler's circle was fairly widespread. The stone reveals that the inhabitants of Tintagel were continuing to read and write Latin and to lead a Romanised way of life long after the Romans had left England in 410AD.
Measuring about 35 cm by 20 cm, the slate has clearly been broken for re-use as a drain cover outside a 6th or 7th century building.
A small cache of 12 fragments from the only known glass flagon of its type in Britain and Ireland were also discovered by Rachel Harry and Christopher Barrowman. Dr Ewan Campbell of Glasgow University comments: "They belong to a large glass vessel of a type not found anywhere else in Britain or Ireland at this period but similar flagons have been found in Malaga and Cadiz, Southern Spain, ports which would have been on the route taken by ships from the Mediterranean to Tintagel. As far as we are aware, the glass is therefore the first direct evidence ever found of a trading link between Spain and Western Britain at this time."
Professor Christopher Morris, Head of the Archaeology Department at the University of Glasgow, and head of the excavation project on behalf of English Heritage, said: "The discoveries made during the recent excavations have been the most dramatic for several decades at Tintagel and among the most revealing of any of the archaeological digs carried out by our department. However, they also confirm that many questions remain unanswered at Tintagel. More research now needs to be done at this fascinating site."