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SECRETS OF THE DEAD: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom

Stream now or tune in Wednesday, July 28, 2021 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Aug. 1 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2

Professor Alice Roberts and a team of experts use new archaeological discover...

Credit: Courtesy of 360 Production

Above: Professor Alice Roberts and a team of experts use new archaeological discoveries to decode Dark Ages myths and piece together a very different story of this turning point in Britain’s history that might also explain the legend of King Arthur.

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After four centuries of occupation and leadership, the Romans left Britain in 410 AD and the island’s fate was left hanging in the balance. History teaches that in the 5th century, the country descended into a tumultuous and violent period knows as the Dark Ages, leaving the nation vulnerable to invading Angle and Saxon hordes from northern Europe.

With a nation divided, great leader known as King Arthur emerged, uniting the lawless lands to fight off invaders – or at least that’s what the fragmentary historical texts suggest. The truth is, no one really knows what happened, and this pivotal moment in history has been shrouded in mystery – until now.

In SECRETS OF THE DEAD “King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom,” Professor Alice Roberts and a team of experts use new archaeological discoveries to decode Dark Ages myths and piece together a very different story of this turning point in Britain’s history that might also explain the legend of King Arthur.

Preview | King Arthur's Lost Kingdom

Uncover new archaeological evidence rewriting our understanding of the Dark Ages in 5th– and 6th-century Britain that might also explain the legend of King Arthur. Aired: 03/27/19

The key to Professor Roberts’ quest is the excavation of a stone palace complex on the Tintagel peninsula in Cornwall, England – long believed to be the birthplace of the King Arthur legend.

More than folklore, was Arthur, in fact ruler, of a prosperous and sophisticated trading village, and the heroic defender of the native Britons against the invading Anglo-Saxons?

The Origin of King Arthur

Professor Alice Roberts and Medieval manuscript curator Julian Harrison discover the beginning of the legend of King Arthur. Aired: 03/27/19

Notable Contributors:

Photo credit: Courtesy of 360 Production

James Gossip and Alice Roberts use new archaeological discoveries to decode Dark Ages myths and piece together a very different story of this turning point in Britain’s history that might also explain the legend of King Arthur.

In 410 AD, the Roman Empire that covered most of Western Europe collapsed, and the Roman troops, aristocrats and bureaucrats abandoned Britain, causing a political catastrophe. The roughly five centuries following the departure became known as the Dark Ages.

In the Welsh monk Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century accounts, Britain was swarmed by the pagan Angles and Saxons from modern-day Holland, Germany and Denmark, destroying everything in their path.

According to Geoffrey, King Arthur comes out of the west, unites the Britons and leads the fight against the invasion, resulting in Britons settling in the west and Anglo-Saxons claiming the east.

Photo credit: Courtesy of 360 Production

Archaeological site. Uncover new archaeological evidence at Tintagel that suggests the legend of King Arthur started in a prosperous and sophisticated trading village in 5th-century Britain following the departure of the Romans.

Buzzworthy Moments

  • At The British Library in London, a well-preserved copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s "The History of the Kings of Britain" is examined. The manuscript is well known for popularizing the story of King Arthur, but was written some 600 years after his reign.
  • In Yorkshire, Anglo-Saxon remains are unearthed and show very little evidence of physical violence. At the site, there are no mass graves of defeated warriors, signs of battle, conquest, or slaughter of a great number Britons by Angle or Saxon tribes. In eastern Britain, further evidence points to the Anglo-Saxons being farmers that built communities.
  • A five-week excavation at Tintagel, Western Britain fortification believed to be the location where King Arthur was conceived, unearths high-valued pottery and pieces of glassware. When considered along with the agricultural discoveries in the east, evidence suggests 5th-century Britain may have been divided, but by class and culture, not warfare.
  • Using high-energy physics, archaeologist Dr. Duncan Sayer examines an unearthed broach with a traditional Anglo-Saxon design, but discovers it was made using a common 5th century British technique. The discovery suggests a blending of British and Anglo-Saxon cultures.
  • At Fort Cumberland, archaeologists examine pottery finds from Tintagel that are made up of various materials and designs not familiar to 5th century Britain, including hundreds of artifacts with materials commonly found in Turkey, North Africa and Southwest France. The findings suggest Tintagel was a prosperous and international trading port.
  • At Tintagel, archaeologists unearth a stone containing an inscription in Roman Latin and local dialect believed to be for a local monument, suggesting a literate society.

Archaeologists Discover a Look into the Dark Ages

At Tintagel, archaeologists unearth a stone containing an inscription in Roman Latin and local dialect believed to be for a local monument, suggesting a literate society. Aired: 03/27/19

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Photo credit: Courtesy of 360 Production

Tintagel peninsula in Cornwall, England

Credits:

A production of 360 Productions and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET in association with the BBC. Narrated by Jay O. Sanders. Producer is Nathan Budd. Director is Kenny Scott. Stephanie Carter is executive producer for SECRETS OF THE DEAD.

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