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The misnamed Arthur stone (it is more properly dubbed the Artognou stone) was discovered in 1998 in securely dated sixth-century contexts among the ruins at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, a secular, high status settlement of Sub-Roman Britain. Apparently originally a practice dedication stone for some building or other public structure, it was broken in two and re-used as part of a drain when the original structure was destroyed.

Contents

Archaeological description

The dating of the stone has been arrived at by two methods: first, the stone came from a securely stratified context in association with imported pottery of known types dating to the fifth/sixth centuries; second, forms of certain letters noted on the slate appear in British inscribed stones from Scotland to Cornwall post-500 and are certainly known elsewhere from 6th century north Cornwall (part of the kingdom of Dumnonia).

At the top right-hand corner of the fragment is a deeply-cut motif consisting (as visible) of a letter A and another incomplete character on either side of a large diagonal cross; the whole may represent a common Christian symbol, a Christogram--the Greek alphabet letters Alpha and Omega flanking a large Greek letter Chi (written like a Roman X), the initial of Christos (Christ). Below this and to the left, but overlapping it slightly, is a smaller, more lightly incised inscription in Latin, reading: PATERN[--] COLI AVI FICIT ARTOGNOU . This seems to have been repeated lower down and to the right; only the letters COL[.] and FICIT, on two lines, can be seen on the fragment. This repetition, the overlap with the Christogram and the shallow carving (scratching would be a more accurate description) all suggest that what we have here is no formal inscription but rather an example of graffiti.

The inscription has been translated by the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project as "Artognou descendant of Patern[us] Colus made (this). Colus made (this)."[1]

The name Artognou means "Bear Knowing", from the Brittonic root *arto "bear" plus *gnāwo- "to know", and is cognate with the Old Breton name Athnou and Welsh Arthneu.[2][3]

Also found in the sixth-century fort at Tintagel were numerous remains of expensive pottery, glasswork, and coins from Visigothic Spain and the Byzantine Empire (when excavated in the 1930s by C. A. Ralegh Radford). It would have had to be a powerful state to have sustained trade with the Mediterranean.

Possible Arthurian connection

According to Arthurian legend, first recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth, King Arthur was conceived at Tintagel Castle. Other than having a superficially similar name and possibly being a local ruler of Tintagel, as well as living in the proper timeframe for the "real" Arthur, there is no hard evidence--or even reason to suspect--that this "Artognou" was the historical King Arthur.[4] At least the inscription proves that, in the period to which Arthur is tentatively assigned, Tintagel was something of a cultural centre, where Latin was still familiar enough to be used informally.

Notes

  1. ^ "Tintagel Island". Celtic Inscribed Stones Project (UCL). http://ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/cisp/database/stone/tntis_1.html. Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  2. ^ Koch, John, "Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia", ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 1669.
  3. ^ Barrowman, Rachel C., Batey, Colleen E., Morris, Christopher D., "Excavations at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, 1990-1999", Society of Antiquaries of London, 2007, p. 199.
  4. ^ Koch, John, Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 1669.

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