Archaeologists believe they may have discovered the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur at a Cornish palace.
The palace in Tintagel is believed to have been built in the sixth century – around the time that the king may have lived.
Researchers have uncovered 3ft (1 metre) thick palace walls and more than 150 fragments of ancient pottery and glass which had been imported from around the world.
Excavations have been taking place at the 13th century Tintagel Castle in Cornwall for five years in a project run by English Heritage.
The castle is popularly thought to be the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, in part because of the discovery of a slate engraved with ‘Artognou’ which was found at the site in 1998.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a medieval historian, also claimed Tintagel was the birthplace of King Arthur in his book ‘Historia Regum Britannae’ – a history of British monarchs that some have called unreliable.
This book was almost certainly completed by 1138 at a time when the Tintagel promontory, where the new palace has been discovered, was not inhabited.
The medieval castle, that still stands today, was built almost 100 years later.
The book suggests King Arthur was conceived after an affair between a king and the wife of a local ruler.
Monmouth’s assertion would likely have had to come from now long-lost earlier legends.
But it appears whoever lived at the site enjoyed a life of wealth and finery.
More than 150 fragments of pottery and glass that had been imported to the site from exotic locations across the globe showed wealthy people lived there.
These include Late-Roman amphorae, fragments of fine glass, and a rim of Phocaean red-slip ware – the first shard of fine tableware ever discovered on the south side of the island.
Archaeologists found evidence showing they drank wine from Turkey and olive oil from the Greek Aegean, using cups from France and plates made in North Africa.
Geophysical surveys carried out earlier this year found the walls and layers of buildings had been built between the 5th and 7th centuries.
The latest excavations led by Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU) are shedding light on how and when the buildings were constructed and how they were used.
Researchers believe the 3ft (one-metre) thick walls being unearthed are from a palace belonging to the rulers of the ancient south-west British kingdom of Dumnonia.
The kingdom was centred in the area we now know as Devon, but included parts of modern Cornwall and Somerset, with its eastern boundary changing over time as the gradual westward expansion of the neighbouring Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex encroached on its territory.
‘The discovery of high-status buildings – potentially a royal palace complex – at Tintagel is transforming our understanding of the site,’ said Win Scutt, an English Heritage properties curator covering the West of England.
‘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.’
This is the first time substantial buildings from the heart of the Dark Ages have been found in Britain.
The Dark Ages is an imprecise period of time which describes the centuries following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.
This means what the archaeologists have found is of major historical significance – irrespective of the potential connection to King Arthur.
The facts around the real King Arthur are mired in myth and folklore, but historians believe he ruled Britain from the late 5th and early 6th centuries.
‘This is the most significant archaeological project at Tintagel since the 1990s’ said English Heritage’s Properties Curator for the West, Win Scutt.
‘The three week dig this summer is the first step in a five year research programme to answer some key questions about Tintagel and Cornwall’s past.
‘We’ll be testing the dig sites to plan more advanced excavations next year, getting a much clearer picture of the footprint of early medieval buildings on the island, and gathering samples for analysis.
‘It’s when these samples are studied in the laboratory that the fun really starts, and we’ll begin to unearth Tintagel’s secrets.’