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St Patrick's Chapel, Whitesands, St Davids 2016

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

St Patrick's Chapel Dig Diary 2015

Day 1 – 6th May 2016

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 once more.

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 trench

Day 2 - 10th May 2016

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…

The trench from the south

The trench from the north

Day 3 - 11th May 2016

A good day: a lot of work was done as the early drizzle and rain died away.

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

More 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 May 2016

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 chapel.

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 are removed

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 May 2016

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

revor taking stones out of the blocked entrance of the enclosure; Hubert recording the wall

Day 16 – 24th May 2016

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 wall

The enclosure wall sits on sand which in turn lies over a buried soil

Jude and Rob taking down the enclosure wall

Marion and Rick removing stones from the wall which at its south end sits on a layer of rubble

Day 17 – 25th May 2016

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.

Day 18 – 26th May 2016

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 plough marks

Marion and Jude working on the charcoal-rich black layer

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!)

Day 19 - 27th May 2016

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 investigative trenches.
(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)




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