A team from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU) have discovered a stone engraved with an extremely rare example of writing from the 7th century at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. It’s not a formal inscription; it was carved by someone doodling or practicing on a window ledge at the castle.
The slate ledge was found under the ruins of the 13th century castle built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother of King Henry III, in an excavation that is part of five-year archaeological survey and excavation commissioned by English Heritage. Digs began in 2016, and archaeologists quickly found the remains of massive stone walls. Fragments of pottery and glass imported from Merovingian France, what is today western Turkey, North Africa, the Aegean are evidence of a thriving trade in luxury products between Tintagel and the Mediterranean from the 5th century until the decline and abandonment of the site in the 7th century.
When the stone was discovered, its importance was immediately evident. It wasn’t until the stone was cleaned that archaeologists saw the wording and realized they had found something of major significance.
Another intriguing element is a letter “A” with a “V” inside it and a line across the top. The “A” may refer to alpha, which is associated with God. One tail of the symbol morphs into a miniature “A”, which may link back to the word fili. A triangle carved into the slate may be the Greek letter delta. […]
Prof Michelle Brown, an expert in medieval manuscripts at the University of London, was given the task of deciphering the inscription. She said: “The survival of writing from this period is rare and this is a very important find. The text features a mix of Latin script with some Greek letters, and a distinctive monogram [the shape based on the letter “A”]. It suggests a high level of literacy and an awareness of contemporary writing styles associated with the early illuminated manuscripts of Britain and Ireland.
“Other examples of writing in Cornwall and western Britain at this period take the form of monumental inscriptions on stones, but this example is quite different, with a writing style and layout 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.”
Researchers will continue to study the slate. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis has not found the remains of any polychrome paint, but archaeologists are hoping high resolution scanning will shed more light on the scribe, whether he was left or right-handed, and on the inscription itself, like what tool was used to carve it. The stone has gone on display at Tintagel Castle as of this Saturday, June 16th.