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Race against sea to reveal the graves of ancients.

ARCHEOLOGISTS are facing a race against time and nature to uncover medieval secrets.

The Dyfed Archaeological Trust is working with volunteers to excavate and record early medieval remains from an ancient cemetery at St Bride's Bay in Pembrokeshire.

Experts believe the site is of national importance and could help us better understand the history of Wales.

Stones from cist (stone coffin) graves can be seen eroding from the bay's low cliffs and archaeologists are recording what remains before it too is washed away by the sea.

The trust's Mike Ings said: "The coastal erosion in St Bride's has been visible even in the last 30 years and people have recorded human bones being exposed by the erosion for a long time.

"Leg bone preservation in a couple of the burials is fairly good so we should be able to get more radiocarbon dates. It will be interesting to see how they compare to the 9th-10th century date obtained from bone retrieved from the cliff a few years ago."

"This is really a case of learning as much as we can while we still can because this information will soon be gone forever."

There is documentary evidence that a medieval chapel associated with the cist cemetery once stood near the site, but it is thought to have been washed away by the 19th century.

"Interestingly the earliest graves we have found previously pre-date the church," Mr Ings said. "So there is much we don't know about the people who lived here."

A nearby cottage on the coast is also believed to have originally been a 'fisherman's chapel'.

The current church of St Bride's was largely rebuilt in the 19th century but parts date to the 14th century or even earlier.

A spokesman for the trust said: "Today St Bride's is a haven of tranquillity but in the past it was a hive of commercial, industrial and religious activity. "There was once a considerable herring fishery there and the ruins of one of the medieval chapels were apparently used for a salt-house. There is also a restored limekiln close to the church and it is possible that remnants of further buildings associated with this industry survived."

The work is being funded by Cadw and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

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[bar] St Brides Bay, where archaeologists are on a dig, left, to record an ancient cemetery before it is eroded away by the sea
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 6, 2011
Words:403
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