Not-So-Dark Ages Revealed at King Arthur Site

King Arthur, Tintagel Excavation, Smithsonian

A view of the ruins of Tintagel castle, built in the 13th century by English royals eager to strengthen their ties to legendary King Arthur, who was said to be conceived at the site. Luxury goods unearthed at royal stronghold show that Celtic rulers thrived at the legendary site of Tintagel.

A recent discovery in southwest England is making headlines for its association with King Arthur, but archaeologists are hailing it as an incredibly important find regardless of any connection with Britain’s greatest legendary ruler.

Excavations at Tintagel, a rocky promontory on the coast of Cornwall, have revealed evidence of massive stone fortifications and luxury goods imported from as far away as modern-day Turkey, all dating to a poorly understood period in British history that began with the collapse of Roman rule on the island around 400 A.D.

The earliest mentions of a leader named Arthur in the historical record are tied to events that occurred between roughly 400 and 600 A.D., the period in which archaeologists believe the fortifications at Tintagel were built. According to an account written centuries later, the legendary king was conceived at Tintagel.

Luxury Trade During the So-called “Dark Ages”

Over the summer, archaeologists at Tintagel have found evidence for more than a hundred buildings that most likely date from the fifth to seventh centuries A.D., a period when the site is believed to have been an important royal stronghold of the Celtic kingdom of Dumnonia.

Initial evidence for the Celtic stronghold was first revealed during excavations in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the home of C.A. Raleigh Radford, lead archaeologist on the project, was bombed during World War II and the scientific results were never properly published. In the 1990s, archaeologists reopened Radford’s trenches at Tintagel and discovered fine ceramics and glassware from all over the Mediterranean world.

More than two decades later, researchers have returned to Tintagel for the beginning of a five-year project funded by the charity English Heritage to better understand what was happening at the site during a time erroneously referred to by some historians as the “Dark Ages,” and by others as “Sub-Roman” or “Post-Roman.”

Why were coastal trading posts like Tintagel mysteriously abandoned in the seventh century?  read more –>…

America’s Castles – Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. is the largest home in America. (Image: timeless_toys/Flickr)

Biltmore is considered America’s largest home, boasting 250 rooms and 125,000 acres. Modeled after a 16th-century French chateau, the home is made of more than 11 million bricks.

Owner George Vanderbilt hired Fredrick Law Olmstead, the creator of New York’s Central Park, to design the grounds. The land was had been cleared for farming and timber before Vanderbilt purchased it, but Olmstead worked with foremen to remove damaged trees, allowing the strong ones to flourish. He also planted 300 white pines, and talked Vanderbilt into hiring a trained forester to manage the land. The forest at Biltmore became America’s first managed forest.

Sustainability efforts continue today. Vanderbilt’s descendants recently installed solar panels that supply more than 25 percent of the energy that powers the estate. Biltmore also sets an example for farm-to-table eating, harvesting eggs, fruits and veggies, and beef and lamb from its own farming operation.

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America’s Castles – Lyndhurst

Lyndhurst sits along the Hudson River in Tarrytown, NY. (Image: Urban/Wikipedia)

Lyndhurst sits beside the Hudson River in Tarrytown, N.Y. Originally built in 1938, Lyndhurst was home to people who shaped generations, from New York City Mayor William Paulding to railroad tycoon Jay Gould. When the home was built, surrounding swamps were drained to create the rolling landscape that still surrounds the home today. The castle is now a National Historic Landmark, and according to its website, the grounds still display “sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, the curving entrance drive revealing ‘surprise’ views, the angular repetition of the Gothic roofline in the evergreens, and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory.”

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America’s Castles – The Breakers

The Breakers in Newport, R.I. withstood the Hurricane of 1938. (Image: Itub/Wikipedia)

The Breakers was originally built between 1893 and 1895 as a summer house for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. At the time, the home cost $12 million to build, a price tag that translates to more than $330 million today.

Although the price seems ridiculously high, the high-end materials were worth their salt. They survived the great New England Hurricane of 1938.

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America’s Castles – Joslyn Castle

A tornado damaged parts of the Joslyn Castle in Omaha, Neb. in 1913. (Image: Ammodramus/Wikipedia)

In a region known more for its farming and tornadoes than for lavish architecture stands Joslyn Castle, also known as Lynhurst.  The 35-room mansion and sprawling estate was built between 1893 and 1903 on the edge of Omaha. Owners George and Sarah Joslyn imported rare trees and plants from around the world to feature in their greenhouse.

On Easter Sunday 1913, a large tornado swept through Omaha. The greenhouse and part of the home at Joslyn was damaged. A hard freeze that followed destroyed the orchids that survived the twister. The Joslyns replaced the greenhouse with a summer house, and added a grape arbor and bird and squirrel feeding stations.

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America’s Castles – Hearst Castle


The Hearst Castle in California. (Image: ArtBrom/Flickr)

Get a glimpse of the land at Sam Simeon, Calif., and it’s no wonder publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst called the area “La Cuesta Encantada” – Spanish for Enchanted Hill. The land was originally owned by his father, George, and the family vacationed and camped on the land while William grew up. When he inherited the retreat in 1919, he knew he wanted to build something magnificent. By 1947, he worked with architect Julia Morgan to create the estate of his dreams: 127 acres filled with gardens, sparkling pools, terraces, priceless art and, of course, Hearst Castle.

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America’s Castles – Downes Memorial Clock Tower Castle


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Located on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut is the Downes Memorial Clock Tower Castle.

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America’s Castles – Hempstead House

Hempstead House in Sands Point, NY is also called the Gould-Guggenheim Estate or Castle Gould. (Image: Michael Gray/Flickr)

The Hempstead House in New York’s Sands Point Preserve was full of pure extravagance in the early 1900s. Rare orchids filled a sunken palm court; exotic birds and wild flowers filled an aviary; the library was built to resemble the library of King James I. You can still visit the grounds of the Sands Point Preserve, which include half-a-dozen trails through woods, fields, a beach and a pond near the Long Island sound.

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America’s Castles – Carolands Chateau


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Carolands is a chateau style castle-like mansion located at 565 Remillard Drive in Hillsborough, California. It was built in 1914 for Harriet Pullman Carolan the daughter of millionaire George Pullman. Today Carolands remains a private residence. It would be a massive tourist attraction if it was ever opened to the public.

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America’s Castles – Stimson House

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The Stimson House Castle is located at 2421 South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles, California. Stimson House Castle was built in 1891 by Thomas Douglas Stimson who got rich in lumber and banking. In 1896 a private detective working for Stimson lit off a stick of dynamite against a castle wall and told Stimson someone was trying to kill him. Eventually Stimson figured out the detective was the guilty party and sent him off to jail. Stimson House Castle ended up in the hands of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity from USC in 1940 and they created such an ongoing ruckus that a wealthy neighbor made them an offer for the castle they could not refuse in 1948 and then the wealthy neighbor gave the place to the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent. The place was a convent until 1969 and then was used to house students from Mount St. Mary’s College until 1993 when it was again turned back into the convent it remains today.

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America’s Castles – Gillette Castle

Gillette Castle is located at 67 River Road in Gillette Castle State Park overlooking the Connecticut River in East Haddam, Connecticut. Gillette Castle was built by eccentric actor William Gillette from 1914-1919 and reportedly cost 1 million dollars including a 3 mile long railroad around the property and castle. In 1943 the State of Connecticut took possession of the property and created the Gillette Castle State Park. Gillette Castle is open to the public and is a very popular tourist attraction that receives over 100,000 annual visitors.

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America’s Castles – CT State Capitol Building

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The Connecticut State Capitol is a castle-like building located in Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut. It was built in high Victorian Gothic style from 1871 to 1878 from designs by architect Richard M. Upjohn. The Connecticut State Capitol houses both branches of Connecticut’s state legislature as well as the offices of the Governor and is open to the public.

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America’s Castles – Glen Eyrie

Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, Colo., was refurbished to look like a castle in 1881. (Image: David Shankbone/Wikipedia)

On the edge of the Garden of the Gods in western Colorado Springs stands Glen Eyrie. Now a conference center, the home once belonged to Gen. William Jackson Palmer, who is considered the founder of Colorado Springs. In 1881, Palmer had the home renovated to look like an English castle so his wife, who was born in England, would feel more at home.

To heat the large home during cold, blustery winters in the Colorado foothills, Glen Eyrie has 24 fireplaces. The chimney system was built to hold smoke inside until the winds were blowing away from the estate, and the smoke would head away from the valley.

Winter weather isn’t the only vulnerability facing the home. The Waldo Canyon Fire, which destroyed about 350 homes in the summer of 2012, has closed all the public trails on Glen Eyrie’s grounds until further notice.

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