Friday, March 07, 2008

Tintagel's "Arthurian Graffiti" Controversy, 10 Years On

While we’re in the vicinity of Tintagel [see previous post], I thought we might take a look at the Tintagel ‘Arthur’ inscription ten years on to see if anything more can be learned. For mysteries remain surrounding English Heritage's "find of a lifetime" a decade ago, of some 6th-century quasi-Arthurian graffiti at their prime Arthurian-tourism location, Tintagel.
That spring of 1998, I had intended staying in Cornwall at Easter, but it was bitterly cold, too cold to stay in the damp, windswept mountaintop 18th-C. tin-miner’s cottage I had used as a base of exploration the two previous years. Thus, I didn’t get to re-visit Tintagel and see the dig in progress. The following spring, I did an online search of the British and US press to see if there had been any additional developments beyond the near identical clutch of stories of the previous summer; but there was nothing. The story seemed to have stalemated between excitement and scepticism. However we can try and take the mystery further now. And I thought it worthwhile to give the account of the controversy in some detail here, as a linked feature, since the Glasgow U. archaeology department pages cited by Wikipedia as their source have for some reason been taken down.
Though the writing found in 1998 was not an ancient manuscript, but carved on stone, it is still of interest here. This is the first known example of Dark Ages literacy outside of Church and court documents: as the man running the dig, Prof Chris Morris of Glasgow U., put it, "the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context".
The use of Latin was common on the Continent, where the native Gaulish was extinguished and replaced by Vulgate Latin, from which the Romance languages (literally, Roman-ish) such as French, Spanish etc are derived. Despite English historians' claims England was thoroughly Romanised, there is no evidence Vulgate Latin ever caught on in Britain or the Britons ever spoke a Romance language. English historians also earlier suggested Britons were illiterate, with no written language of their own. It has also been suggested the controversial ART- inscription found in 1998 was a Gallic rather than local dialect of Latin. The Continental connection is also worth exploring here as the Arthurian legend was nurtured in France by British exiles who fled across the Channel, so that it reappeared in French Romances. And this avenue of exploration turns up a surprising link. Could more than a tradition of swordsmanship connect the legendary wielder of Excalibur with the Finest Swordsman In All France?
[read feature ‘Tintagel And The Arthurian Controversy’ ]