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Human bones found in cliff cavity point to ancient burial site

By WMNlynbarton  |  Posted: March 18, 2014

  • The bones found in the cliff at Halyon Bay

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An ancient burial site was discovered when council officers turned detective after human bones were found in the cavity of a cliff face in Cornwall.

The report of the find at Harlyn Bay was initially made to police, who then passed it on to Senior Environmental Protection Officer Sara Grattan who is part of Cornwall Council’s public health and protection service.

The service is responsible for investigating incidents of clearly aged human remains and, following an investigation which established this was a finding of interest, an emergency licence was sought from the Ministry of Justice to carry out an exhumation.

Once it had been established that the bones were of historical significance, the council’s historic environment service to remove and examine them.

Andy Jones, an archaeologist team leader who is an expert in Bronze Age ceremonial monuments, said it was fascinating find because of what had already been located in the area.

“This area is one of the most important for prehistoric burials in Cornwall,” he said.

“The sand protects bone from the acidic soil conditions making it one of the few places in Cornwall where unburnt bone will survive”.

Mr Jones and his team visited the site and found that the cavity was in fact a cist, a stone burial chest, which had been set into the ground.

“Our investigation of the cist revealed that it contained a partial burial, the full skeleton does not seem to have been buried, of a young person possibly female.

“There were no grave goods and the only find was a quartz block. “

The bones were carefully removed from the cavity and taken back to Mr Jone’s base at New County Hall for further investigation, including radiocarbon dating.

This latest find is located close to several other burials of Bronze Age date of 3500-4000 years ago, which have been exposed by earlier cliff falls and a large Iron Age, around 2500-2000 years ago, cist grave cemetery is located nearby.

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