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PHOTOS: How kings really lived in Cornwall

tintagel excavations
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8:03am 16th July 2017
(Updated 8:03am 16th July 2017)

Excavations at Tintagel Castle have revealed how kings lived in Cornwall.

Turns out they had a taste for oysters, fine wine and roast pork - who knew?

Archaeologists are carrying out digs at the site to uncover more about the legendary castle's past.

The ground-breaking 2016 dig by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU) - the first research excavations at Tintagel Castle in decades - covered only a small area, but still unearthed a feast of historical finds.

The fascinating finds from the late 5th and early 6th centuries include fine tableware from as far away as Turkey, decorated Spanish glassware and evidence that those at Tintagel Castle were feasting on pork, fish and oysters during the centuries that have been called "Cornwall's First Golden Age".

During this period, Tintagel was almost certainly a royal site with trading links reaching from the Celtic Sea to the eastern Mediterranean.

tintagel excavations

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

Significant finds in the area excavated included a section of a fine Phocaean Red Slipped Ware bowl from Turkey, imported wares and amphorae thought to be from southern Turkey or Cyprus and fine glassware from Spain.

Archaeologists also found evidence which suggests that those living at Tintagel at the time were enjoying a rich diet, as shown by pig, cow and sheep or goat bones with signs of burning and butchering, oyster shells and a cod cranial bone, the first evidence of deep sea fishing at Tintagel.

Following on from these successful excavations, the archaeologists have returned to Tintagel Castle to carry out more fieldwork, examining a much wider area. They will be on-site until 11th August during which time the public will be able to see them in action.

tintagel excavations

English Heritage's Properties Curator, Win Scutt said: "These finds reveal a fascinating insight into the lives of those at Tintagel Castle more than 1,000 years ago. 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. It's a highly evocative picture and I am delighted that the time has come to return to site with the team to find out more."

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. 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.

"Our plan in 2017 is to open up a much larger area on the southern terrace so that we get a good look at the scale and size of the buildings and find out exactly when they were built and how they were used. All indications to date could suggest that they are residential buildings perhaps lived in by important members of the community which lived and traded at Tintagel over 800 years ago. Visitors and those following the project online will be able to see the excavations in action and hear about new discoveries day by day and to share in the excitement of this new research"

english heritage

A selection of extremely interesting iron artefacts was also uncovered, including items of personal wear, domestic items and possible hunting paraphernalia. These objects from the late Roman and post-Roman periods will greatly extend the knowledge of domestic life at this time, not just at Tintagel, but in the whole of Britain.

The archaeology project first hit the headlines last summer when some substantial walls were discovered in exploratory trenches dug on the southern and eastern terraces behind the castle's island ward. Now a new report from the Cornwall Archaeology Unit describes all these discoveries in more detail, along with preliminary results from the scientists and archaeologists who have been working on the finds and samples over the last few months.

Following on from these successful excavations at Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall in 2016, a team from Cornwall Archaeological Unit have now returned to the castle to carry out more fieldwork. The 2017 dig at Tintagel Castle runs for five weeks from 10th July to 11th August 2017, six days a week (excluding Saturdays). A wide outreach programme will take place, including a five day Archaeology Festival from 24th to 28th July and visits from education groups.

The Tintagel Castle Archaeological Research Project is funded by English Heritage and runs for five years, with archaeological excavations in 2016 and 2017.

A fully illustrated digital report on the results of the project is planned for 2021.

8:03am 16th July 2017

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