A phone call reporting that parts of a skeleton had been found in a cavity in a Cornish cliff face may sound like a plot for TV detective show, but for two Cornwall Council staff it marked the beginning of an intriguing investigation.
The council was contacted by the police after a call from a member of the public who had seen what they thought were human remains in a cavity the cliff face at Harlyn Bay.
The Public Health and Protection service are responsible for investigating these reports and, following an investigation which established this was a finding of interest, it was necessary to apply for an emergency licence from the Ministry of Justice to carry out an exhumation. This licence is granted under Section 25 of the Burial Act 1857.
Once it had been established that the bones were of historical significance the Council’s Historic Environment service was tasked with removing them.
Andy Jones, an Archaeologist Team Leader with the Historic Environment service and expert in Bronze Age ceremonial monuments, said: “This area is one of the most important for prehistoric burials in Cornwall” said Andy.
“The sand protects bone from the acidic soil conditions making it one of the few places in Cornwall where unburnt bone will survive”.
Andy 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 Andy’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 (3500-4000 years ago), which have been exposed by earlier cliff falls and a large Iron Age (2500-2000 years ago) cist grave cemetery is located nearby.