Hundreds of Skeletons Emerge Beneath Century-Old Store

They date to medieval period when Wales' Haverfordwest hosted a priory
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2022 12:16 PM CDT
Hundreds of Skeletons Emerge Beneath Century-Old Store
Archaeologists dig at the site of a former department store in Haverfordwest, Wales.   (Dyfed Archaeological Trust)

Archaeologists have disturbed a medieval graveyard holding the remains of hundreds of people beneath a former department store in Wales. Old records and street names point to a medieval priory in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, but no one knew for sure where it was when builders began digging new foundations beneath the century-old store earlier this year, per the Western Telegraph. That's when experts came upon the "hugely significant" remains of the Friary of St. Saviours, as well as those of more than 240 people, half of whom were kids when they died, reports the BBC. About 33% of the remains belong to children who died under the age of 4, per the Telegraph.

Officials say this reflects the high mortality rate of children in the Middle Ages. However, at least one of the uncovered skulls shows signs of violence, specifically a puncture wound and mutilated ears, which could be evidence of warfare. The individual could be a victim of an attack on the area's English rulers by a Franco-Welsh rebel force led by Owain Glyndwr in 1405, the Guardian reports. "This is huge for us to find out more about the story of Haverfordwest," site manager Andrew Shobbrook told the Telegraph last month. "There has been very little archaeological extraction in the town and we are unearthing some fantastic finds." Experts believe the priory was founded by a Catholic order of monks known as the Dominican Friars or Black Friars around 1256.

It was made up of several buildings—including dormitories, a hospital, and stables—and is "quite a prestigious place to be buried," Shobbrook tells the BBC. "You have a range of people, from the wealthy to general townsfolk," he adds, noting the graveyard might have been used up until the early 18th century. The priory itself "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," Fran Murphy of Dyfed Archaeological Trust previously told the Western Telegraph. A forge was built at the site in the 19th century. The Ocky White department store opened in the following century before closing its doors in 2013. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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