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Mysterious medieval cemetery unearthed in Wales

A rare, early medieval cemetery has been unearthed in Wales and it has left archaeologists scratching their heads.


Copyright: BBC / Kevin Church


It's thought to date to the 6th or 7th Century and 18 of the estimated 70 graves have been excavated so far.

Some of the well preserved skeletons have been found lying in unusual positions and unexpected artefacts are also emerging from the site.

The dig is starting to reveal more about this ancient community - but it's also raising questions.

The cemetery lies in an unremarkable field in the grounds of Fonmon Castle, close to the end of the runway at Cardiff airport.

Over two summers, a team has been busy carefully removing the thin layer of topsoil to expose the graves that were carved into the bedrock so long ago.


Copyright: BBC / Kevin Church


Summer Courts, an osteoarchaeologist from the University of Reading, says the skeletons are in good condition despite being around 1,500 years old.

She points to a skull that's just been excavated, which is providing clues about how these people lived and worked.

"We have some teeth that are very worn in a kind of a funny way that might indicate the use of teeth as tools," she says.

"Maybe for textile work, leather work or basketry - they're pulling something through their front teeth."

But some of the skeletons are posing a puzzle - they're lying in a whole variety of positions.

Some are flat on their backs, normal for the period, while others are placed on their sides, and a few are buried in a crouching position with their knees tucked up against their chest.


Copyright: BBC / Kevin Church


The archaeologists aren't sure what this means. Was the cemetery used over a long period of time as burial practices were changing? Or were some people being marked out as different?

These questions and more about who actually lived and died here may take a lot longer to answer...

The above is an extract of an article from BBC News Science, written by Rebecca Morelle and Alison Francis. Read the full article here:

You can learn more about the medieval cemetery on Digging for Britain on BBC 2 at 8pm on 4 January 2024. The full series is also available on BBC iPlayer.

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