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Stone’s rare 1,300 year old writing reveals multicultural community at Tintagel

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Excavated stone with seventh century inscriptions with Latin, Greek and Christian symbols are set to go on display at the Cornish castle.

The rare early medieval writing was uncovered on a stone during a major excavation at Tintagel (Emily Whitfield-Wicks/English Heritage/PA)

A stone inscribed with rare ancient writing has been uncovered at Tintagel Castle, adding weight to theories it was a multicultural royal site, experts said.

The stone’s Latin writing, Greek letters and Christian symbols all date from the seventh century AD and appear to be the work of someone practising writing a text, analysis has found.

Inscribed writing from the early Middle Ages rarely survives, so the find of the 1,300 year old engraving is particularly unusual, according to English Heritage, which manages the site on the north Cornwall coast.

The stone's engraving includes Latin writing, Greek letters and Christian symbols (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)
The stone’s engraving includes Latin writing, Greek letters and Christian symbols (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)

It was uncovered last summer as part of a major excavation at Tintagel by Cornwall Archaeological Unit, which has also turned up oyster shells and livestock bones, bowls from Turkey and glass goblets from Spain dating from the same period.

While Tintagel is intricately bound up in the legend of King Arthur, said to have been conceived there,  experts think it was the seat of early Cornish kings with trading links to the Mediterranean during “Cornwall’s First Golden Age”.

Analysis of the inscriptions on the stone show the person carving them was familiar with both the informal style of writing used for documents and  the formal script for illuminated Gospel books of the time.

It adds further weight to the theory of early medieval Tintagel as a royal site with a literate Christian culture and a network of connections stretching from Atlantic Europe to the eastern Mediterranean, English Heritage said.

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The stone, a two-foot long piece of Cornish slate which served as a window ledge in a building that appears to have been part of a major early medieval settlement, includes Roman and Celtic names “Tito” or Titus, and “Budic”.

This hints at a multicultural community on the north Cornwall coast some 1,300 years ago, the experts said.

The Latin words “fili” or son, and “viri duo”, which means two men, also appear on the stone.

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Further analysis will be conducted on the stone to see how it was engraved, and meanwhile it is going on display at Tintagel from Saturday.

Digital analysis has been used to study the detail of the stone's writing (Tom Goskar/English Heritage/PA)
Digital analysis has been used to study the detail of the stone’s writing (Tom Goskar/English Heritage/PA)

English Heritage curator Win Scutt said: “It’s incredible to think that 1,300 years ago, on this dramatic Cornish cliff-top, someone was practising their writing, using Latin phrases and Christian symbols.

“We can’t know for sure who made these marks or why, but what we can say is that seventh century Tintagel had professional scribes who were familiar with the techniques of writing manuscripts and that in itself is very exciting.

“Our ongoing research has already revealed the extent of Tintagel’s buildings and the richness of the lifestyle enjoyed here.

“This latest find goes one step further to show that we have a literate, Christian community, with strong connections from Atlantic Europe to the Mediterranean.”

The engraved piece of slate was found as part of a major excavation at the Cornish site (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)
The engraved piece of slate was found as part of a major excavation at the Cornish site (Christopher Ison/English Heritage/PA)

Expert on writing Michelle Brown from the University of London said: “The lettering style and language used, as well as Christian symbols exhibiting Mediterranean influence and contacts, all reveal precious clues to the culture of those who lived at Tintagel in the seventh century.”

She said the style and layout was suggestive of a “competent scribe from a Christian background, who was familiar with writing documents and books and who was practising a series of words and phrases rather than carving a finished inscription”.

The inscribed stone is the second example of early medieval writing to be found at Tintagel, with the first found in 1998 with several words on it including Artognou, wrongly taken by some as a variant of Arthur.

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