The 2016 excavation at St Patrick's Chapel, Whitesands is
from 9th to 27th May. The excavation, by Dyfed Archaeological
Trust and its volunteers in collaboration with the University
of Sheffield, aims to ensure that no archaeology here is
left at risk from coastal erosion for the next fifty years.
There will be free guided tours, all day, every day. No
booking needed: if you're interested in our work, come along
and find out about it.
St Patrick's Chapel Projects page
St Patrick's Chapel Dig Diary 2014
Chapel Dig Diary 2015
1 – 6th
And we're back at St Patrick's Chapel, Whitesands! Under gently
cloudy skies, last year's trench was reopened. Our volunteers lifted
turf, and a JCB scooped out sand; the plastic sheeting over last
year's work was revealed and the west wall of the chapel saw daylight
Now to clean our way back to where we left things a year ago.
Fingers crossed for tomorrow's weather – rain is promised but the
longer it holds off, the more we'll do.
Deturfing the site
Removing the sand with a JCB
Clearing sand from the plastic sheeting laid over last year's
Day 2 - 10th
The rain arrived, but not until late morning. We had a good start:
the black plastic sheeting came off, and our visitors (whose enthusiasm
is oblivious to Pembrokeshire drizzle) could see the large stone
structure underneath the medieval chapel. It shows up very clearly
after last year's removal of burials around it.
From lunchtime, the rain grew heavier,
and by 3.30 was so steady that we had to finish early. We're now
checking tomorrow's weather forecast…
trench from the south
trench from the north
Day 3 - 11th
A good day: a lot of work was done as the early drizzle and rain
We expanded our main trench to the north, and started emptying
out the fill from earlier excavations within the medieval chapel,
in order to understand the sequence of its construction.
More graves started to appear as we cleaned down through the central
area of the main trench.
Expanding the main trench
Emptying fill from the medieval chapel
burials appear in the central part of the main trench
Day 4 - 12th May 2016
The sun shone on our trowels, and more burials were revealed in the main trench.
With the help of students from Portfield School, a new trench was opened to investigate the eastern (landward) extent of the burial ground.
Opening the new trench
Gareth and Nigel cleaning the extension to the main trench
Planning and trowelling in the main trench
Day 5 - 13th May 2016
Brilliantly sunny but a cold wind – a Factor 50 sunscreen day. Excavation progressed on a number of burials, and more of the interior of the medieval chapel was exposed.
As on previous days, we had lots of visitors, including some returning to see how things are developing – the site changes so much from day to day!
Geraint excavating the burial of a young woman and a perinatal infant
Rob cleaning around the boundary wall of the medieval chapel yard
The top of a cist grave appears – this is typical of their appearance when first exposed. Scale is 50cm long. We hope to start excavating this tomorrow.
Day 6 - 14th May 2016
Saturday – and even more visitors!
Rick and Vicky started investigating an area where five skulls were found last year – an area where intercutting graves extend down through the sand to an early soil level. Possible prehistoric pottery was found in a dense, black soil that seems to originate in this lower level.
Helen and Trish are doing a magnificent job (as they have done for the last two years) cleaning bones and small finds.
Geraint continues work on the skeleton of a young woman - the ‘infant’ in her arms now appears to be bones fallen from another burial.
Marion, Joan and Kate cleaning around a tumbled wall in the northern part of the trench.
Geraint works while Marion explains the site to some of our many visitors.
Day 7 - 15th May 2016
The day starts with the worrying discovery that, overnight, someone has entered the site and disturbed some of the burials. Otherwise, another gloriously sunny day, with many visitors, some of whom have travelled very long distances to see the site.
Rick and Vicky now have seven skulls in the area of black soil, some related to in situ burials, and others to disturbed graves. Fragments of crucible are also found in this area, where prehistoric pottery also continues to appear.
The young woman excavated by Geraint appears to have been pregnant at the time of her death.
The tiny grave of an infant - just 50cm long.
The young woman.
Skulls and the area of black soil (centre, between Rick and scale).
Day 8 - 16th May 2016
A sunny, busy day.
More burials continue to emerge. In the area being excavated by Rick and Vicky, two children buried together have been found. Underneath them is a prone (face downwards) burial.
Hubert has been planning a dilapidated rough wall of possibly early date which lies between the northern end of the rectangular enclosure and the boundary wall of the medieval chapel yard.
Rob working on a small cist grave
The double child burial and the prone burial
Planning and cleaning around the dilapidated wall in the north of the trench
Day 9 – 17th May 2016
A day of drizzle and mist.
Another incised cross has been found: this one is on a small stone (about 20 cm across) that formed the side of an infant cist grave. A number of other infant burials have also been revealed.
The cross discovered today
The burial of the two children discovered yesterday; there is also a baby to their right. Underneath them is the prone burial. It is unclear whether the stones are from the grave fill or not.
The prone burial with the stones removed
Day 10 - 18th May 2016
…. And we continue digging. A large cist grave in the centre of the main trench was opened, and more infant burials continue to be found.
Jude and Hywel working on the large cist grave and (to the bottom left of this grave) a tiny infant burial
The large cist grave contains one of the best preserved skeletons that we have excavated here
Day 11 - 19th
A wet and windy day. A few fragments of amber were found in the
sand at the far end of the trench. The interior walls at the western
end of the medieval chapel were cleaned in preparation for recording:
the different phases of construction show
up very clearly.
Kim working on the west wall of the medieval
Babs cleaning the wall of the large enclosure
under the medieval chapel; it has a well-built rounded corner
(see Day 2 for another photograph).
Days 12 to 14
- 20th to 22nd May 2016
Another extraordinarily busy weekend, with many visitors. The
walls of the medieval chapel are being drawn, as is the large rectangular
enclosure underneath it. We continue to find more burials, both
adult and juvenile. Most are east-west oriented and supine, but
some are different. Yesterday (Saturday) we had a second prone
burial. Today, Sunday, a north-south burial was found.
Rick excavating a burial covered with
bones from earlier burials
The same burial after these other bones
The second prone burial, which overlies
a poorly preserved infant
Peter drawing the blocked entrance of
the large rectangular enclosure.
The blocked entrance
Visitors watch us excavate
Rick excavating the north-south burial
The north-south burial
Day 15 - 23rd
Today we unblocked the entrance to the rectangular enclosure,
which had been blocked (very neatly) by stones. We continue to
find burials within this enclosure, but we are noticing a difference
in their orientation at the level we are
now excavating. Rather than east-west inhumations (which are typical
of Christian burials) we now have burials of differing orientations:
north-south and northeast-southwest.
Rick excavating the north-south oriented
burial of an infant
Roger drawing the elevation of one of
the interior walls of the medieval chapel
Trevor taking stones out of the blocked
entrance of the enclosure; Hubert recording the wall
16 – 24th
Today was a day of recording walls and trenches. No more burials
are appearing. We started removing the enclosure wall to find out
what lies below it. Fragments of prehistoric pottery were found
within the wall.
Hubert and Jude recording the enclosure
The enclosure wall sits on sand which
in turn lies over a buried soil
Jude and Rob taking down the enclosure
Marion and Rick removing stones from
the wall which at its south end sits on a layer of rubble
17 – 25th
We finished removing the enclosure wall and found that it partially
overlays a sub-circular mound of stones. This mound is associated
with a charcoal-rich layer that contains a lot of animal bone.
One further burial was found, oriented east-west. We started filling
in trenches: a JCB is booked for tomorrow to help with this in
the main trench.
The enclosure area to the south-east,
showing the remaining enclosure wall in section: it has a rounded
top. To the left of it is the stone mound and an area of charcoal.
The north west corner of the partly-demolished
enclosure wall, which was rounded externally.
The north-west corner from the inside,
showing its sharp interior angle.
The east-west burial that was found today.
The site after removal of the wall, with
Rob and Geraint (who is working on the burial). To the centre
left are the stones of the entrance, one of which was moved because
it was unstable. Underneath it was animal bone which may help
us date it.
18 – 26th
A day of trowelling and recording against the clock.
Plough marks were visible in the buried palaeosoil that underlies
the whole site.
We removed the loose stones on top of the sub-circular mound of
stones that we found yesterday: underneath it are upright boulders
that form a curved kerb. We sieved the black, charcoal-rich layer
that buts up against these stones. This black layer lies between
the buried palaeosoil and some of the graves we have excavated
in previous days.
And then the JCB arrived and, suddenly, it was all over…
Babs, Peter and Rick trowelling the buried
soil that runs under the whole site: the wavy dark lines are
Marion and Jude working on the charcoal-rich
Say cheese: the excavation team!
The site before it is covered over.
A slice through time: the medieval pilgrim's chapel on top, the
early medieval cemetery below it, and underneath it all the heaped
stones, which may be prehistoric.
The trench is covered over: the digger
at work (thanks to David Murphy Contracting!)
19 - 27th
Some photos from the last day of the 2016 season, which was devoted
to restoring and landscaping the site, and to processing material
from the final phase of excavation. Helen and Trish, our stalwart
bone-cleaning team, worked up to the very end.
Landscaping and turfing
The final day's landscaping team
Helen and Trish cleaning finds
And that's it for now from this captivating site. It has been
a very busy three weeks – we have had, on average, 150 visitors
a day - and the excavation has been extremely successful in what
it has achieved.
An interim report will come out in the autumn, but it will be
at least 18 months before all the specialist analyses are completed
and the full report compiled.
We'll sign off for now with a couple of photos taken from a drone.
The site from the east, showing ancillary
(Photograph courtesy of Stephen Rees)
The medieval chapel and the underlying rectilinear
enclosure. Scale: the square on the right enclosure wall is a
1m planning grid.
(Photograph courtesy of Stephen Rees)