AROUND 250 perfectly preserved medieval skeletons have been discovered during excavations at a beachside chapel in Pembrokeshire.

Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) is coming to the end of its five-week excavation at St Patrick's Chapel cemetery at Whitesands Bay.

Coastal erosion has been a concern at the site since the early 20th century, with regular reports of burials emerging from sand dunes, the work at the site is an attempt to harness as many of its secrets before it is lost to the sea.

This year's dig, which was postponed from 2020 due to lockdown, is set to be the last one due to funding.



So volunteers and DAT staff have uncovered around 130 early medieval Christian burials, with 120 skeletons uncovered during previous digs in 2014 and 2019.

Because the bodies were buried in sand, with as many as eight stacked on top of each other in some cases, their bones are perfectly preserved, a rare thing for a Welsh graveyard.

"Welsh soil is naturally quite acidic," said DAT archaeologist Jenna Smith. "In Wales it is unusual to find any bones from this period of time that are well preserved because of the soil."

However, the bones in St Patrick's Chapel intact and preserved, providing a unique insight into life in Wales in the eighth to eleventh century.

The skeletons discovered during the dig will be sent away to Sheffield University where they will be carbon dated. Researchers will also be able to determine the ages and sexes of the bodies buried in St Patrick's as well as gaining an insight into the diet of the day.

They will then be kept in the secure human remains store at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff and it is hoped that one day they will be reinterred.

The St Patrick's skeletons have been buried in cists, stone lined graves with no coffins. Quartz pebbles were placed on top of the graves and some stone markers have also been uncovered, including on this dig a 'beautiful' intertwined carved cross which will probably go to the National Museum in Cardiff.

There are also plans to relocate one of the cist graves, a particularly fine example of its kind, to the museum.

The dig has also unearthed glass beads, pieces of amber and shell bracelets. However these would have been things dropped or broken in the vicinity, rather than things people were buried with, as the early Christians did not add personal possessions to the graves of their loved ones.

The dig will continue until Thursday with the chapel stones replaced and the entire site filled back in on Friday.

For more information on this year's dig, see Dyfed Archaeological Trust on Facebook.