Human Remains May Have Revealed the Site of a Medieval Friary

Archaeologists uncovered nearly 300 skeletons and other artifacts from beneath an old Welsh department store

Archeologists digging
Ruins found under an old deparment store may be from the friary of St. Saviours, which was founded by a Dominican order of monks in about 1256, but its exact location had always been a mystery. Ymddiriedolaeth Archaeolegol Dyfed Archaeological Trust via Facebook

Archaeologists uncovered medieval artifacts and the remains of about 280 people while digging under an old department store building in Wales, reports Dan Whitehead for Sky News

“It's incredibly significant. Very rarely are there deep excavations in urban areas,” Fran Murphy, head of field services at Dyfed Archaeological Trust, which is coordinating the dig, tells the publication. “The study of it will be such an amazing insight into society at the time. It’s a little bit overwhelming at times when you see the sheer number of excavated bones.”

The old Ocky White department store building in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, had been undergoing a £6.3 million ($7.1 million) redevelopment project when “significant archaeological findings were discovered” during demolition, per the Pembrokeshire County Council, which launched the project. They then delayed construction for the archaeological dig.

“Historical and cultural artifacts are a part of our Welsh heritage and have an inherent value for education, research, leisure, tourism and the economy,” Terry Edwards, the managing director for John Weaver Contractors, the construction company working on the project, said in a statement earlier this year. “They are a finite, non-renewable resource, and we have a responsibility to mitigate the potentially-damaging effects of any development we work upon.”

Among the artifacts found were segments of roof ridge tile, carved stone and decorated floor tiles, per Current Archaeology. Experts say the ruins may be from the friary of St. Saviours, which was founded by a Dominican order of monks in about 1256, but its exact location had always been a mystery.

“We know it’s there because of a series of monastic references, mainly records about money,” Murphy tells the Western Telegraph’s Harry Jamshidian. “At its height there were apparently eight friars who were part of the friary before it was dissolved and passed into private hands. It was dissolved in the 1530s with one of the friars scrubbing his name from the list of friars at the priory, which is peculiar and might have been a protest to it closing.”

Archaeological dig at Haverfordwest's Western Quayside

Some of the skeletons show signs of battle wounds from arrows or musket balls, writes Aled Scourfield for BBC News. Those people may have died during an attack from Owain Glyndŵr, who led a years-long fight for independence from England starting in 1400. Glyndŵr was the last native Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales. 

“We know that the town was besieged in 1405 by Owain Glyndŵr, and they could be victims of that conflict,” site supervisor Andrew Shobbrook from Dyfed Archaeological Trust tells the BBC. The human remains will be analyzed by experts before being reburied in consecrated ground, per the publication. 

Eventually, the site will be transformed into a three-story food emporium, boasting a bar and rooftop terrace. For now, the trust repurposed an old shop near the dig site into a makeshift museum for locals to see some of the artifacts, according to ITV News.

“People just stop as they're shopping and look in the window for the new things that we've found,” Murphy tells ITV. “There's all this accumulated history of their own town beneath them. It's so gratifying for me and the staff for people to stop us every day and ask questions.”

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