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Tintagel Castle a royal site with Mediterranean trading links, experts suggest

Experts said the finds showed it was almost certainly a royal site.

Early Cornish kings feasted on oysters, roast pork and wine out of bowls imported from Turkey and glass goblets from Spain, excavations at Tintagel Castle have shown.

The evidence of fine dining and luxury in the late 5th and early 6th century was unearthed as part of the first research excavations to take place in decades at the legendary coastal castle, by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU) in 2016.

While Tintagel is intricately bound up in the legend of King Arthur, who was said to have been conceived there, experts said the finds showed it was almost certainly a royal site with trading links to the Mediterranean during “Cornwall’s First Golden Age”.

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An archaeological dig at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall )Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust/PA)

Results of the dig, which have now been published by (CAU) and English Heritage, show finds include oyster shells, livestock bones with signs of burning and butchering and a cod cranial bone which provides the first evidence of deep sea fishing at Tintagel.

The dig, which only covered a small area, also turned up a Phocaean red slipped ware bowl from Turkey, amphorae or jars from southern Turkey or Cyprus, and fine glassware from Spain, as well as iron brooches and dress hooks, knives and nails.

The excavations uncovered a selection of stone-walled structures on the southern terrace of Tintagel Castle’s island area, with substantial stone walls and slate floors reached by a flight of slate steps.

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Fragments of Roman pottery and part of a local stone bowl found at Tintagel Castle (Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust/PA)

Following on from the successful dig, the archaeologists have returned to examine a much wider area, with the public able to see them in action.

English Heritage properties curator Win Scutt, said the finds drew a “highly evocative picture” of life at the site in the post-Roman period.

“These finds reveal a fascinating insight into the lives of those at Tintagel Castle more than 1,000 years ago.

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The evidence of fine dining and luxury in the late 5th and early 6th century was unearthed as part of the first research excavations to take place in decades at the legendary coastal castle (Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust/PA)

“It is easy to assume that the fall of the Roman Empire threw Britain into obscurity, but here on this dramatic Cornish cliff top they built substantial stone buildings, used fine table wares from Turkey, drank from decorated Spanish glassware and feasted on pork, fish and oysters.

“They were clearly making use of products like wine and oil contained in amphorae traded from the eastern Mediterranean.”

Jacky Nowakowski, project director at CAU said: “Our excavations at Tintagel last summer exceeded all expectations by partially revealing amazingly well-preserved stone walls, a slate floor and a flight of steps which belong to a pair of well-built buildings.

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The research excavations were untaken by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage Trust/PA)

“Accompanied by many finds, we have at present, a broad date range which suggests these buildings were part of the major post-Roman settlement at Tintagel.”

She said the plan for excavations this year was to open up a much larger area on the southern terrace to get a look at the scale and size of the buildings they had discovered and find out when they were built and how they were used.

Evidence so far suggests they were residential buildings which may have housed important members of the community who lived and traded at Tintagel more than 800 years ago, she said.

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