Introducing the exhibition

For the fifth time, you are about to enter my Dark Place.

A lot of people say: Howard Williams? Isn’t he the guy who writes all those trashy Archaeodeath blogs? Well, good luck to you, you’re an idiot! Because my blogs always say something, even if it’s something simple like ‘don’t teach students to whine on about common sense being the only theory they need’. There’s always a message or a theme, even if I’m running out of time or really tired.

In the last four posts, I’ve explored the famous site of Tintagel, focusing on the new interpretation by English Heritage. This is worth my time since, while my blog is usually about archaeo- ‘death’, this is a premier early medieval archaeological site. How Tintagel is presented is a topic of national and international significance.

Aaron Watson’s vision for ‘Dark Age’ Tintagel
Dr Nugent in the Cornish mist

Cornish Mist

One theme proves so controversial, so dangerous, so radical, that the archaeology top-brass have yet to muster the collective balls to talk about it. In this blog I entrust to you a discussion of the new displays in the English Heritage exhibition at Tintagel known as ‘Tintagel: Where History Meets Legend”. This is so you have absolutely no excuse not to get it. I’m speaking about Cornish Mist…. Well, I’ll be dead and rained on!

Artist’s reconstruction of the castle, by Aaron Watson

Cornish Mist? But what’s Cornish Mist? Is it an evil South-West Peninsula foggy force of dead warriors angry over the new Tintagel heritage displays? Do the Cornish want to destroy our way of life and everything English Heritage stands for: order, sobriety, hope? I haven’t the foggiest! Certainly the new displays have proved controversial, focusing on the Merlin carved face and the Arthurian bronze sculpture.

It has been said that sometimes you have to be a bigot to bring down bigger bigots. In this case, Cornish mist is a mist of mist-understanding, as the exhibition makes clear.

I visited with Dr Ruth Nugent, who always buys her batteries for her mini fans from a reputable dealer, allowing her to blow away all Cornish mist.

The Exhibition

In the small available space, the exhibition packs in five elements. On each wall are two panels explaining a dimension of Tintagel’s past:

  1. A Legend Begins – this explains the origins of the Arthurian associations with the castle in the 12th and 13th centuries;

    The first display, featuring medieval literature
  2. Tintagel in the Dark Ages – includes a replica of the Artognou stone and artefacts from the site, and discusses the early medieval archaeology;
    The ‘Dark Age’ displays
    The Artognou stone, replica

    Imported finds at ‘Dark Age’ Tintagel, giving a sense of the long-distance links the site enjoyed.
  3. A Castle Fit for a King – this outlines the late medieval archaeology of the castle;
    The third display showing an arti’st reconstruction of the castle plus artefacts from the site
    The right-hand side of the third display

    The artefacts and artist’s reconstruction of the hall from the castle
  4. Inspired by a Legend – a discussion of the later medieval history and later reception of Tintagel to the present day.

    The fourth dimension of the display

The two middle displays feature artist’s reconstructions of the site in the ‘Dark Ages’ and ‘medieval’ periods by Aaron Watson.

Bob Marshall and Aaron Watson’s art also features in the centre of the exhibition. Here there is a model of the island and adjacent mainland upon which is selected highlights of Tintagel’s history, to the accompaniment of a eerie soundtrack. Different text is highlighted, shifting images appear around the edge, and the model is lit in contrast fashions to highlight different phrases of the site’s use. The best bit for me, in addition to the artist’s reconstructions of the Dark Age settlement and medieval castle and chapel, is the animation of the cliff collapse that destroyed part of the curtain wall.

DSC05642 The animation in the centre of the exhibition
The model showing how the castle might have appeared in the 13th century

Put these five elements together, and you have a fresh, simple, balanced, distinctive and engaging review of the archaeological, historical and literary dimensions to Tintagel’s past. I think it’s quite nice and shows the international and national dimensions to the site. The Cornish mist is banished…