Mandy Ewington was walking in the beach when she looked up and saw two bones lodged into the cliff. She took a picture of the leg bones and sent them to leading coastal archaeologist Karl-James Langford.
The investigation into the bones will be carried out by archaeologists rather than police, because it is believed they are the remains of a monk who died around 800 years ago. It is estimated the owner of the bones was aged in his 20s and in good health when he died.
According to the local experts the site in Monknash in South Wales where the bones were found was a burial ground for Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages.Embedded around the bones can be seen fragments of cut stone which belonged to the grave in which the monk had lain since the 12th century.
Archaeologist Karl-James Langford examined the site from the ground because the cliff wall was too unstable to scale.
Langford said, “This is nature doing the excavations for us. I would passionately say that this is Mother Nature taking away what she has given to us life itself. People used to think their bodies belonged to the ground and now these bones will be washed in to the sea. It is a fantastic opportunity to link together the natural erosion affecting us and our own past.”
Mr Langford said the winter storms had caused large parts of the British coastline to collapse.As a result archaeological sites were being revealed but also lost to the sea. He said, “There was a monastic community close to the area and these bones indicate a male in their late 20s who was in good health. I would say they belong to a monk from the 1200s – due to previous archaeological digs in the past, the depth of the bones in the cliff and the history of the area. He would likely be buried with nothing except two shroud rings which would have held his burial shroud in place at the head and feet. It’s quite an easy picture to put together. The valley is named after the Welsh saint Cewydd and was home to a community of Cistercian Monks from 1129 until the dissolution of the monasteries 1535.”
Human bones were discovered in the same area in 1982 and also in 1990 when part of a skull was picked up. Three years later excavations revealed three adults buried in an east-west line. Mr Langford added, “In just a couple of weeks of storms we lost a foot of our coastline. If you put that into perspective – over the last 2,000 years we have lost about 1km of the coast line.Erosion is accelerating so fast we can do nothing about it. We are losing burial grounds, hill forts and whole settlements all washed into the sea. But archaeologists cannot do the work on these sites and excavate them because they are so dangerous – they are on the edge of a sea cliff.”