Expedition Unknown – The Quest for King Arthur – S02E01

imageI’m not sure where I’ve been or why I didn’t know about these episodes earlier, but the second season of Expedition Unknown completely passed me by. I’ve been waiting to hear news about a new season starting only to find it has come and gone. Well, no matter! My musings might be a little on the late side, but it’s always fun to catch up with Josh and see where and what he’s up to.

For the first episode, Josh is off to England, Scotland and Wales in search of answers surrounding the mystery of King Arthur. We should all know the story by now about Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and ruling over the land as the future king. However, is there any truth to these stories? Is this merely a fun and fanciful tale, or does the Arthur legend have roots in real events and real people?

In hopes of getting some answers or perhaps muddying the waters even more, Josh heads to Tintagel Castle, the rumored birthplace of Arthur himself. On these grounds is said to be the cave where Merlin finds Arthur and now standing atop the cliff is a fortress built by the Earl of Cornwall. It is said the castle was built to commemorate Arthur and his uniting armies against the invading Saxons. And it is believed that during the 6th century when Arthur would have been alive that he would have looked more like a Roman solider than the traditional knight in shining armor.

Around the grounds of the castle they’ve discovered what looks to the ruins of very old structures and some tablets that refer to "Arthur". Does this mean there was indeed a true and real Arthur and he is buried somewhere on the site? Well, no one really knows, but most likely not.

There was however a rumor started at the Glastonbury Abbey, which claimed they found the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere complete with nameplates. However, it is considered this whole story is nothing but a hoax used to try and cash in on the Arthur legend when the monestary was going bankrupt and needed funds. But it goes to show that whether or not Arthur is real, he is revered and people want him to be real.

Something a little more tangible can be found over in Lester where some cave explorers have found what they believe could ultimately be the burial tomb of Arthur and the knights. In some versions of the story, it is said that Merlin swept away the remains of Arthur and created a tomb. Some believe the massive 50 miles of underground tunnels will ultimately reveal the burial chamber. Josh gets suited up and makes an exploration. While many of the massive chambers look like they could be tombs or temples and they have been able to discover the skeletal remains of at least one person, they aren’t able to find anything definitive that shows signs of human interaction or intervention. In fact, they haven’t been able to locate any burial chambers or artifacts such as armor, shield, sword of even religious objects.

Further down the road in Edinburgh, Scotland, Josh continues his Arthur investigation, but first it’s time to stop off for a quick bite of haggis along with a glass of Scotch. Seems like an excuse to nip off to the pub, but there is method in his madness.

On the grounds of Stirling Castle there is something that has come to be known as the King’s Knot or "table round" and many believe it refers to the Knights of the Round Table. With that idea in mind, there are researchers using ground penetrating radar to map the area. Since it’s a historical site, they’re unable to actually dig into the ground even though they’ve been able to determine objects and ground disturbances just under the surface.

Again, it makes for a neat story, but if you’re not able to do any excavation even when you might be on top of some evidence, there’s not much you can do with this story.

While that doesn’t make Arthur, Scottish, researcher Adam, says that Arthur was actually a Scotsman as they have been able to find historical records describing some events they believe are the kernel of the idea that is now the Arthur legend. Adam believes that Arthur was Celtic and would have lived in the ways of the Druids, that is to say, he would have been a Pagan rather than a Christian. And what evidence does have to support this claim?

He believes that the sword in the stone story is the literal act of standing in the ancient footprints on the stone of men who has come before you and taking the sword to declare that you intend to defend the land. This was more of a ritual or ceremony not a real sword stuck in a stone. Adam also contends that Camelot comes from the words for Twisted and Marsh. It’s not really a place, but a description of where Arthur lived, indeed the lands surrounding that particular area of Scotland.

Adam then takes Josh to a location where he believes they have found the ruins of ancient buildings. Buried beneath all the debris, roots and moss are walls that would have made the foundation of structures that looked out over the marsh. To him, this is where the royal court of Camelot would have been built.

However, once again, they aren’t able to find any real evidence to support these claims. In fact, throughout the entire trip it is merely speculation and wishful thinking that make people think Arthur is real and within the area they’re searching in. But at this point, none of the scholars or cave explorers or researchers have found anything that actually shows Arthur to be a real person other than the name appearing in some stories. I would have to say that Arthur, even with the original spelling, isn’t exactly the most unique name out there, so saying Arthur is a real person would obviously be true at some point.

As is normally the case, legends are rooted in some sort of fact. While the real person and the real event most likely won’t live up to the commercialization of the story, there is usually some nugget of truth out there somewhere. Really about the only thing people can agree upon, and even that isn’t rock solid, is that Arthur would have been alive around the 6th century and would have been a Pagan and that the stories about knights in shining armor would have been invented much later to make the story more appealing and to align it with the Templars and the Crusades. And it appears a monk may have dressed up the story a wee bit to further that glamour.

But even so, the Arthur legend is alive and well and perhaps if the story was real and went from being history to legend, it may be possible to turn that legend back into history and find the true nature of Arthur. Until then, it will still be a really cool story about honor, courage, loyalty, myth and magic, and that’s probably cooler than the truth anyway.

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