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Sheffield: dead in Wales

Myopic university administrators have just shut down Sheffield University Archaeology Department. This is a devastating blow to archaeology. The following new story reports on the department's work, cut short, on a Medieval cemetery in Wales.

Whitesands Beach in Pembrokeshire, Southwest Wales, was once a flourishing medieval trading post with Ireland. A nearby medieval cemetery lies behind the beach and is threatened by rising sea levels on a notoriously stormy coast. Three hundred and twenty well-preserved burials, and counting, have come from the site, unusually well preserved given that they lay in sandy soil.

Radiocarbon samples date the interments to between the 6th and 11th centuries. All of them, both adults and children, were laid to rest near St. Patrick’s Chapel, their bodies placed from east to west, their heads facing west. There were almost no personal adornments, although the excavators have found a few beads and other personal possessions dropped by the mourners, for this was the medieval Christian custom. Some of the dead lay in cists or tombs covered with stone slabs.

Of the 100 or so burials excavated between 2014 and 2019, abut 60 percent were under 18 years old. There is also a high percentage of females and infant burials. Jenna Smith of the Dyfed Archaeological Trust speculates that they were ‘British, Irish, and possible Mediterranean decent.’ This is hardly surprising, for Whitesands Beach was a busy place with numerous visitors. Work on the diet and diseases present is continuing.

The latest six-week excavation was designed to save the burials form destruction by the sea. With the season due to continue until the 17th of July, it has been a joint project by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust, and the newly-closed University of Sheffield Archaeology Department. Sheffield was one of the world's leading archaeology departments, and the closure is felt throughout the archaeological world and beyond.

Image by Nick Bolton

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