Public invited to visit ruined chapel site on Pembrokeshire beach where archaeologists have discovered dozens of skeletons

By Culture24 Reporter | 11 May 2016

Skeletons, long cists and carefully-constructed graves for children have been found at St Patrick's Chapel

A photo of a skeleton found by archaeologists at St Patrick's Chapel in Pembrokeshire
A typical long cist burial discovered at St Patrick's Chapel, on the Welsh coast© Dyfed Archaeological Trust
On a grassy plot above the surfers on the beach of Whitesands Bay in Pembrokeshire, archaeologists have returned to a chapel which was ruined more than 400 years ago. Storms regularly expose human bones here, and it’s said to be the place where St Patrick set sail to Ireland in the 5th century AD. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that more remains have turned up.

“We have found almost 50 skeletons dating from the 7th to 11th centuries,” says Ken Murphy, of the Dyfed Archaeological Trust. “Many were placed in graves lined with stone slabs, known as long cist graves.

A photo of a skeleton found by archaeologists at St Patrick's Chapel in Pembrokeshire
A cross scratched on a lintel stone of a child's long cist grave© Dyfed Archaeological Trust / Stephen Kingston
“A stone cross stood at the end of one of graves - the first time in Britain that an upright stone cross has been found in association with a long cist grave. Great care had been taken in the construction of some of the many child graves found, with layers of quartz pebbles or limpet shells carefully placed on the graves.”

Murphy and his colleagues’ aim this year is to save precious archaeology from coastal erosion, continuing an endeavour started by the National Park Authority, who placed boulders against the chapel site 12 years ago. The storms of 2014 washed them away.

A photo of a skeleton found by archaeologists at St Patrick's Chapel in Pembrokeshire
© Dyfed Archaeological Trust
“We then decided that excavating part of the site most vulnerable to erosion was the only way forward,” he says. “We excavated for two weeks in 2014 and three weeks in 2015.”

The Welsh Government, the Nineveh Charitable Trust and the University of Sheffield are funding the final year of the excavations, backed by the National Park and open to the public for free daily tours.

“Bone preservation was very good,” Murphy says of the skeletons. “Analysis will provide information on the diet of the people who are buried at St Patrick’s Chapel, and even on where they were born. There is no doubt the results of the excavation will greatly advance our knowledge of the lives and the beliefs of the people who lived in Wales over 1,000 years ago.”

  • Free tours take place throughout the day until May 27 2016. Chapel lies 50 metres from the Whitesands Bay car park. Longer guided tours take place May 14-15, email Sarah Rees or telephone 01558 825999 to book. Visit dyfedarchaeology.org.uk.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a skeleton found by archaeologists at St Patrick's Chapel in Pembrokeshire
© Dyfed Archaeological Trust
Three places to discover the archaeology of Wales in

Blaenavon World Heritage Centre
Visit a modern attraction in the first school in Wales, built in 1816 by Ironmasters for their workers. Inside, interactive exhibitions tell the story of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site and its residents through history.

National Museum Cardiff
To celebrate The Year of Adventure in Wales, the current exhibition, Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology, features extraordinary treasures from popular culture including the hat, whip and jacket of Indiana Jones, crystal skulls, Inca gold and early finds such as Egyptian Mummies. Until October 30 2016.

Egypt Centre, Swansea University
As part of Museums at Night 2016, the Egypt Centre will be opening late to give you the chance to explore the museum with the gallery lights off and only the case lights on. May 14 2016.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
SUPER! As an archaeologist on vacation I personally can't wait to visit in a few weeks!
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