In sand dunes by the popular Whitesands beach, St Davids,
is the site of St Patrick's Chapel. Apart from the fact that
the chapel was ruinous by the sixteenth century, history
is silent. Excavations in 1924 revealed the stone foundations
of the chapel, and in 1970 excavations revealed three skeletons
in stone lined graves (called long cists), probably dating
from the sixth to the eleventh centuries. More graves were
revealed during the severe storms of January and February
2014, prompting the current excavation.
The excavation is a Dyfed Archaeological Trust / Pembrokeshire
Coast National Park Authority partnership project and is
part-funded by Cadw.
Graves are exposed in the eroding sand dunes, shown
here after the winter storms
the graves exposed by the winter storms
Day 3 - 14 May
Owing to no electricity, no mobile phone and no internet it has
not been possible to post a dig diary for days one and two.
Three trenches have been opened. Several methods of preventing
erosion have been attempted in the past including dumping an old
car in the sand. This was revealed in trench 1 and removed with
the help of a JCB. It lay directly on cist graves.
In the other two trenches the west and north wall on the medieval
chapel have been recovered.
the old car from trench 1
Day 4 - 15 May
There has clearly been a lot of disturbance in trench 1, with
loose human bone found in layers containing bits of old car and
modern bottles – the site is a popular barbecue spot. Towards the
end of the day the tops of what looked like several cist graves
In Trench 2 the west wall of the chapel was uncovered and cleaned,
and in trench 3 a revetment wall to the chapel-ground with a quartz
pebble surface inside it was revealed about 1m below the ground
The top of two possible cist graves in trench 1
The outside wall of the chapel in trench 2
quartz pebble surface in trench 3
Day 5 - 16 May
In trench 1 the lintel stones of two well-preserved cist graves
were revealed and three other burials were excavated, two below
spreads of boulders. One of these burials was disarticulated and
the bones placed in a pile.
Cist graves were found in trench 3, and a new trench, trench 4
was opened running south from the chapel.
The west chapel wall in trench 2
the burials in trench 1
tops of two well-preserved cist graves in trench 1
Day 6 - 17 May
Continuing excavation in trench 1 revealed yet more cist graves
close to those already exposed. The trench was extended to the
north, and almost immediately more cist graves were found, including
one with an upright stone cross at its head end.
What is probably the south boundary to the chapel was found in
trench 4 – work will continue on this feature tomorrow.
cist graves in trench 1
showing the good bone preservation in one of the cist graves
trench 1 to the north
grave marker in the extended trench 1
Day 7 - 18 May
The tops of the cist graves in the extension to trench 1 were
cleaned and recorded, including the one with the grave marker.
Work began in excavating the cist graves. Bone preservation was
variable, but generally very good for west Wales. One cist seems
to have two skeletons in it, and overlies another cist and other
grave marker can be seen at the west end of the grave in the foreground
of the grave marker
well preserved skeleton in one of the cist graves
Day 8 - 19 May
All the bone in the cist grave with the grave marker was found
to have disintegrated, although there is probably another grave
below it. The cist that seemed to have had two skeletons, on excavation,
was found to have just one, but with two skeletons immediately
What is assumed to be the boundary wall of to the chapel yard
was revealed in trench 4, to the south of the chapel, with what
may be tops of cist graves between it and the chapel.
grave marker with the excavated grave
progressing in trench 1
skeletons revealed on removal of a cist grave
4 with the chapel wall in the foreground and the chapel-yard boundary
wall mid-way down the trench
Day 9 - 20 May
Backfilling the site is going to be quite a task, and so work
started on reinstating trench 3.
In trench 1 what seems to be the west wall of a stone building
is emerging, perhaps the west wall of an earlier chapel. If this
is correct, then it is a relatively earlier building, as it is
cut through by some of the cist graves. A
black soil layer in the sand dune below the foundation of the wall
and beneath the cist graves was sampled for charcoal for possible
black soil layer in the sand dune with the stones of the wall above
views of the site
Day 10 - 21
Several children's graves clustered towards the north end of trench
1. All were cist graves. Bone preservation was variable.
A skeleton beneath one of the previously excavated cist graves
had, uniquely, its head to the east, and was in slightly flexed
a child's grave, and the excavated skeleton – only
the skull survived
skeleton with the head to the east
Day 11 - 22
The cist below the grave with the grave marker was excavated and
found to be largely sand-free and contained a very well preserved
skeleton of a young woman. What was considered to be a wall of
a building in trench 1 wall resolved itself into just that. It
was built of massive boulders. Its date is unknown.
The well preserved skeleton in the cist with the grave marker
wall in trench 1 after the removal of all the graves
Day 12 - 23
The last day, a wet day, and a day devoted to back-filling and
restoring the site.
excavation team above the back-filled trench 1
site of St Patrick's Chapel now, and as it was at the time of the
1924 excavation (postcard kindly supplied by Roy Lewis)