Historians still argue about whether King Arthur was a real British king in the Early Middle Ages, or if he is a legend created from tales of many different British leaders, both real and fictitious. Now, those in the King-Arthur-was-real camp have some more evidence to support their claims—a building that appears to be a royal palace dating to the legendary king's time was discovered at an archaeological dig site, precisely where Arthur is said to have been born, according to .
The discovery at Tintagel in Cornwall, the southwestern-most region of the U.K., has major historical significance even without any connection to King Arthur. The Cornwall Archaeological Unit, with financial support from the English Heritage Trust, says that this is the first time British buildings from the Dark Ages—the 5th and 6th centuries AD—have been found in such a preserved state.
Three-foot thick masonry walls enclose buildings with sturdy steps and slate floors. Artifacts found in and around the buildings suggest the occupants were members of royalty, such as pottery and glass fragments that once contained wine from modern-day Turkey and olive oil from northern Africa. Finely-painted glass cups from medieval France and ornamental bowls and plates from Turkey and northern Africa also suggest the occupants of the Dark Ages buildings were an elite class.
The Cornwall archaeologists believe that the primary building at the site was the seat of the 6th century rulers of Dumnonia, the British kingdom that covered the Tintagel region at the time—which is where and when King Arthur is said to have lived.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century Welsh cleric, recorded one of the first detailed written accounts of King Arthur's life in his Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"), likely taken from earlier oral traditions. In Geoffrey's account, completed around 1136, King Arthur was conceived in the 5th century in a fortress at Tintagel that had fallen into ruin by Geoffrey's time. The ruins of a castle that was completed about a century after Geoffrey lived still stand near the dig site where the Dark Ages buildings were discovered.
Scholars who believe King Arthur was a real individual who defended Britain against Saxon invaders in the Early Middle Ages will surely point to the newly unearthed buildings, thought to be a royal place and surrounding complex, as precisely the fortress that Geoffrey cites as Arthur's birthplace. Skeptics will argue that the discovery is a coincidence and point to the fact that Geoffrey was writing some 600 years after King Arthur's alleged death, suggesting that the myth of Arthur was likely patched together from the lives of many historical rulers.
Whether a king named Arthur actually consorted with a wizard named Merlin and pulled the sword Excalibur from a stone—both of these tales are recounted in Geoffrey's Historia—is secondary to the historical significance of the Cornwall dig. It seems that great rulers once lived in Tintagel. Here's to hoping that continued study can determine if one of them, or perhaps some combination of several of them, was the King Arthur of legend.