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13 November 2014

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You are in: Cornwall > History > Local History > Ancient Discovery

An ancient tooth - Pic: Johnny Dufort, National Trust

Ancient Discovery

Human remains have come to light for the first time in thousands of years in north Cornwall. The unseasonal storms of recent times have exposed the bone fragments at an ancient burial site at Constantine Bay. See pictures and hear our report.

Trevor Renals, a local Ecologist discovered the ancient bones while hunting for flints on the cliffs at Constantine Island near St Merryn in north Cornwall. 

Trevor found a tooth and then discovered fragments of bone which had become exposed on the seaward side of Constantine Island. The area is part of an area accessible by walkers unknowing walking across the top of a Bronze Age burial mound.

Hear our interviews with Assistant Archaeologist for the National Trust in Cornwall and Devon Jim Parry, Trevor Renals who made the discovery, and County archaeologist Nick Johnson: 

See pictures of the discoveries:

Ironically excavations had been carried out at this location in the past but the remains which have been radio-carbon dated are thought to be around 3000 years old.

The Skeleton that was discovered - Picture by: Johnny Dufort/National Trust

The human remains discovered in Cornwall

There were fears the site would suffer further damage so an emergency excavation has been carried out revealing the contents of a Bronze Age Burial site. 

Trevor told BBC Cornwall he suddenly realised the potential of the archaeological importance of the site and immediately contacted the National Trust.

"I was really looking for flint. I was searching one area in particular I found a front tooth and then a piece of bone. I could see the tops of the slates sticking out from the path. You can see by the way the slates are formed it's actually a stone line cist," he says.

Assistant Archaeologist for the National Trust in Cornwall and Devon Jim Parry says:

"Over the years the sea line has come in and the coast has retreated, and the whole area used to be covered with human settlement and there's traces of settlement from 4000 years ago right up to the present day."

The Trust spent £13,000 on an emergency rescue excavation of the site; the fieldwork was undertaken in October 2007 when tides gave the team the longest possible access to the site. 

The cist at Constantine Bay - Pic: Johnny Dufort

The cist where the remains were found

They uncovered what's described as a complex monument. A cist was found to hold the remains of a crouched adult male, set within a cairn composed of slates. No artefacts beyond a few water-worn quartz pebbles accompanied the burial but a radio-carbon obtained from the bone gave a date falling between 1380 and 110 BC. 

Jim Parry says: "A cist is a small stone lined coffin basically which was buried under the mound. What's happened because the sea has eroded away one edge, bits of the stone have been exposed. It's one of the very few prehistoric inhumation burials to survive in Cornwall excavated under controlled conditions. It is also the first scientifically dated Middle Bronze Age inhumation burial from a barrow in the county."

The human remains are currently being studied by the Cornwall County Archaeology team. 

last updated: 19/08/2008 at 10:00
created: 15/08/2008

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