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 –>…


King Tut’s Dagger

King Tuts Dagger, Smithsonian-crop

X-ray spectroscopy lays a decades-long metal mystery to rest

When archaeologists discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb, they were stunned by the riches contained within. One of the weirder artifacts of the tomb was a dagger that confused scientists, sporting a blade seemingly impervious to rust and age. Now, reports The Guardian’s Alan Yuhas, the secret of the blade’s timelessness has been uncovered:  It was made from a meteorite.

New research published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science  confirms that the blade was made with materials from a meteorite.  Scientists performed X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, a method used to learn more about the elements the object is composed of. In this case, they found iron, nickel and cobalt—materials found inside chunks of space rocks that survive their fall to Earth.

The discovery not only brings closure to a decades-long debate about whether or not the dagger was made from a meteorite, but it also gives insight into the culture of Ancient Egyptians. Aside from the obvious cool factor of owning a dagger made from a material from space, King Tut’s craftsmen appear to have realized that meteoritic iron was a long-lasting and tough material. The researchers write that their find shows that Ancient Egyptians placed a high value on what they called “iron of the sky” and that they knew about the off-Earth origins of the material.

It turns out the king may have had a thing for meteorites; it’s thought that other blades in the tomb and King Tut’s headrest may also have been made of “iron of the sky.” If King Tut did lay claim to Ancient Egypt’s most precious metal, he would not be alone:  In 2013, researchers discovered that a group of 5,000-year-old beads were made of meteoritic iron, too.

There’s something magical about metal that falls from the sky—not only do the mysterious stones have their own hall in the American Museum of Natural History, but they’re thought to contain clues to the origins of the solar system. No wonder they were a material fit for a king.

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Apr 04, 1968 Dr. King Assassinated

MartinLutherKing, Pinterestpic courtesy of:

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracialpoor people’s march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.

On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules … read more, watch video —>


Rare Sculpture of Martin Luther King Comes to the Smithsonian

Martin Luther King, Jr, Sculpture, Smithsonian

Less than two years after Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated, the African-American artist Charles Alston received a commission from Rev. Donald Harrington for the Community Church of New York to create a bust of the Civil Rights leader for $5,000.

Alston, who was active in the Harlem Renaissance, was better known as both an abstract and representational painter. He had been the first African-American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. But his 1970 bust of MLK, of which he made five casts, became one of his most prominent pieces.

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned one of the 1970 castings and lent the work to the White House, where it has stood in the library since 1990, the first image of an African American on display at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When Barack Obama became the first black President in 2009, he brought the work into the Oval Office, replacing a bust of Winston Churchill that had been returned to the British Embassy. There it became a prominent work, seen in official portraits with visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

Now a second copy of the famous King bust comes to Washington for all the public to see close up.

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day weekend, officials from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture are announcing the recent gift of one of the rare copies of the 1970 Alston sculpture of Martin Luther King, which will be on display when the new museum opens this September.

“We’re very excited to have it,” says curator Tuliza Fleming. “It really fits quite nicely into our mission.”

The sculpture is a gift from Eric and Cheryl McKissack of Chicago, who had purchased it from the N’Namdi Contemporary art gallery in Miami five years ago.

“We have a couple of other works by Charles Alston,” McKissack said from Chicago, where he is a principal in an institutional investment and management firm. “We are obviously fans of his work. We don’t have a very long history with this particular piece, but we felt it was such a significant subject as well as an important artist of color.”

It won’t be the first Alston for the new museum, either … read more —>