Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom

Air date: 03/27/2019

Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom

Premieres Wednesday, March 27 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) Streams March 28 via and PBS apps


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.

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?

Short Listing

Uncover new evidence suggesting the legend of King Arthur began in a Dark Ages trading village.


Long Listing

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.


Running Time: 60 minutes

Notable Talent

  • Professor Alice Roberts – biologist, archaeologist and Professor of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, UK
  • Max Adams – author and archaeologist
  • Julian Harrison – curator of Medieval manuscripts, The British Library
  • Miles Russell – historian and archaeologist, Bournemouth University, UK
  • Professor Dominic Powlesland – director, Landscape Research Centre
  • Samantha Lucy – archaeologist, Cambridge University UK
  • Win Scutt – curator, English Heritage
  • Jacky Nowakowski – principal archaeologist, Cornwall Archaeological Unit
  • Duncan Sayer – archaeologist, University of Central Lancashire, UK
  • Professor Peter Donnelley – Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, UK
  • Maria Duggan – British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Newcastle University, UK
  • James Gossip – Excavation Director, Cornwall Archaeological Unit


Notable Facts

  • 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.




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.


Series Overview

At the intersection of science and history, Secrets of the Dead uses the latest scientific discoveries to challenge prevailing ideas and throw fresh light on unexplained historical events.


Production Credits

Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom is 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.



Funding for Secrets of the Dead is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by public television viewers.


About WNET

WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multi-platform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.




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Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom. Credit: Courtesy of 360 Production.

Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom. Credit: Courtesy of 360 Production.

Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom. Credit: Courtesy of 360 Production.

Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom. Credit: Courtesy of 360 Production.

Secrets of the Dead: King Arthur’s Lost Kingdom. Credit: Courtesy of 360 Production.