800-year-old monk found poking out of cliff face
The thigh bones of a medieval monk have been found poking out of cliffs at Monknash in South Wales which was a former burial ground in the Middle Ages
Published 10/03/2014 | 18:08
The legs of an 800-year-old medieval monk have been discovered, poking out of a cliff face in Wales.
Although badly damaged and missing their knees, shins and feet, the thigh bones were found after the fierce recent storms caused severe coastal erosion.
They were spotted by rambler Mandy Ewington, who sent a photograph to coastal archaeologist Karl-James Langford.
Mr Langford, 39, said "I thought she must have been mistaken but I went down to see for myself and thought: "Bloody hell,this is amazing!
"You can clearly see a grave has been eroded into the sea.
"What is fascinating is you can see the two femurs being slowly revealed as the cliffs are eroded away."
The area of Monknash in South Wales was a burial ground for Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages.
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.
The bones were discovered by rambler Mandy Ewington (Wales News Service)
Mr Langford said a monastic community lived close to the area and the bones appeared to be from a man in his late 20s, 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.
Mr Langford, who runs Archaeology Cymru, said the winter storms had caused huge swathes of the British coastline to collapse and precious archaeological sites were being revealed and lost to the sea.
"It's like watching archaeology going like the pages of a book and the history is being revealed with every turn of the page.
"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.”
Human bones were discovered in the area in 1982, when a human long-bone was found, and then in 1990 part of a human skull was picked up.
Three years later, excavations revealed three adults buried in an east-west line.
The Cwm Nash Burial Ground is listed by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales as an "unofficial burial ground used by parishioners of Monknash".
A 2012 report by the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust concluded that the burials found on cliffs at Cwm Nash probably date from some time in the post-medieval period (1485-1901).
Mr Langford said archaeologists are struggling to keep up with the number of sites being lost to the sea.
He said: "I take my students to Orkney every year and we are being told by the archaeologists up there that they are losing sites so fast they cannot excavate and document them quick enough.
"On the east coast around Norfolk the erosion has been going since time immemorial and now we are getting erosion on the west coast.
"There are hill forts along South Wales which will not exist in 10 years time as the cliffs will be completely gone."