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Site name Harlyn Bay B, St Merryn
Site number 1177
Burial codes 2005 2007 2009 2021 2023 2025 2028 2030 2031 2042 2046 2051 2053 2065 2071 2084 2091 2094 2097 2098 2103 2104 \\\\n2105 2106 2107 2108 2110 2111 2121 2122 2125 2128 2129 2130 2143 2153 2156 2181 2183
8/700bc-100bc A cemetery near the beach, discovered in 1900, contained c130 graves, mostly coffin like cists made of slate slabs with a great slate slab as a cover. They had been dug into an ancient land surface showing extensive traces of human settlement, and had subsequently been buried by drifting shell-sand. The account can only be an overview as no very precise record has survived of individual graves, nor was any complete plan or detailed excavation record published.

Judging from the records of 60 graves (Nos 61-130 had no recorded information), they were placed end-to-end in several long parallel lines running NS and c0.9m apart, but in some cases the arrangement was disturbed by other similar graves (up to 4) being placed on top, perhaps as the sand buried earlier depositions. Some cists had more than one compartment. One deposit on the site (Whimster C.13.50) appeared to be a charnel house for the collection of bones from the diggings of new cists or the emptying of old, the bones being thrown in without order. This deposit occurred over a wall beneath which the foundation burials referred to below were found. Three skeletons without cists were also found.

The graves contained inhumation burials of at least 100 persons of all ages and both sexes, the skeletons lying on their sides (mainly the left) with the knees drawn up to the chin, and the hands and arms sometimes crossed, sometimes down and sometimes up. On Beddoe's analysis there were 13 definite and 3 possible adult males, 3 definite and 2 possible adult females, and 1 child, the remaining 15 that he examined being of uncertain sex. It is clear from Iago's account that there were a number of children, and their cists tended to be more circular, the body being curled up; sometimes, however, the child shared a grave with an adult, or had a compartment in a large grave. Seven child graves are definitely recorded in all. The remains indicate a short, mainly dolichocephalic people, and Beddoe dated the type to the period immediately before the Roman invasion.

One particularly unusual burial was noted, the inhumation of an adult and a child on the west side of the burial ground (Whimster C.13.57). They were covered by large slabs of slate on which had been built a low drystone wall 0.9m high or more. This wall was wider at the top than at the base, and was traced for c6m. From later excavations this wall may have belonged to a building, possibly with a mortuary or other funerary purpose which was associated with the earlier burials on the site [Whimster 1977]. The massiveness of the slabs had crushed the skeletons. A bronze ring was found on the side of the adult skull and an iron ring was amongst the adult bones. The excavator speculated that this might have been a (sacrificial) foundation burial to protect the burial ground. One other burial on the site, No 58, showed severe sword cuts to the skull (Whimster C.13.58).

There appeared to have been some deliberate manipulation of skeletal material in one grave, with thigh bones and skulls separated from their bodies. The 'round cist' which provided evidence for this was recorded in more than usual detail (Whimster C.13.56). It was 1.5m in diameter, with in the western compartment 2 adults and a very young child, heads to N, on their left sides facing east, and crouched; in the eastern compartment was an adult skeleton, the skull smashed, crouched on the left side, head to N, and under the head a piece of quartz. A thigh bone of skeleton No 3 (west) and one of No 4 (east) was separated from the rest of the skeleton by a layer of slate slabs and had been put in later on top. Another bone of No 3 was apart from the skeleton. The 2 skulls of the adults in the western compartment were quite separate from their respective trunks. One iron ornament was found amongst the bones of the child, and two pieces of cuttlefish occurred in the western compartment. Two large shield-shaped pieces of quartz were found near the cist, both worked and c0.35m long. Two slate knives were on the top of the cist. In another burial, No 37, with similar evidence for bone manipulation, a young adult male was laid head to N, with the skull separated from the body and lying by the feet, resting on its under surface and jaw facing E with a mussel shell stuck to the skull immediately above the right ear (Whimster C.13.60). A small cist containing decayed bones was by the skull.

Another cist, No 10, contained 4 skulls arranged in a square formation, and a 5th was placed on top. Cist No 46 contained three skulls in a NS line all facing west.

One cist contained an adult male contracted on the left side oriented NNE, right arm flexed, hand to head, left arm partly under the body and extending to chest. A frog skeleton was found near the mouth (Whimster C.13.59). A small piece of slate was stuck vertically in front of the mouth, and a piece of slate and some small pieces of spar were placed on the neck. In a child's grave were the bones of two mice.

In two cases the deposits had been made with no great order: a five sided cist contained 2 adults and 3 children 'tumbled in with no properly arranged grave' (Iago in another cist 4 adult males had been put into a grave not big enough for them.

The surviving grave goods were not rich or numerous, and there were no recorded weapons at all. However, an unknown number of items was distributed to private collections, and therefore no conclusions may be drawn from the residue. Furthermore, what survives cannot all be certainly ascribed to graves, but may have come from the ancient land surface or one or two nearby middens. Even so, the excavation field notes apparently suggest that the majority were unaccompanied burials.

No whole pots were buried, and only broken pieces of pot were found here and there. The fragments recovered included a sherd of La Tene period as at the Glastonbury Lake Village, and a sherd of biconical shaped pot but wheel turned. One grave contained Roman pottery as well as bronze ornaments. [Bullen 1912 described the pottery found on the site generally as coarse and of the Neolithic type.] Several large iron rings were found, including some which may have been bracelets, and one a ring-brooch. Other finds included: a bronze swan-necked pin of Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age type accompanied by a bronze finger ring of a kind found in both Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age, bronze ear-rings (on one skull), some unornamented bracelets of bronze wire and shale, a typical Iron Age weaving comb of horn, four spindle whorls, a small piece of tin ore, and numerous shells. There were also worked slate implements (knives or blades) found in the graves and in patches around the site, although many of these on later examination proved natural. There was an abundance of quartz found in the graves, and sometimes outside, resting against the end slab where the head lay. These often appeared to have been worked into a shield shape.

Near the heads of the bodies in most cases had been found a little parcel of charcoal, flint and felspar, the materials used to make fire. Animal bone of ox, sheep, horse, pig and young lamb were found on the cemetery site and in the cists, but no more detail is recorded. Human teeth not belonging to interments were also found in association with them, and may have been amulets or charms [according to Bullen 1912].

The dating of the cemetery depends in part on two brooches found in the same grave and resting on the pelvis (as shroud fasteners possibly) which have Spanish and Portuguese burial parallels, but are reckoned to be late La Tene. One bronze brooch piece indicates a latest date for use of the cemetery as the early 1st Century AD. The majority of the metalwork is of the Mid to Later Iron Age. The excavation did not cover the whole extent of the cemetery which appeared to have been used for several generations starting in the 1st Century BC.
Remains/Period Y2
County Cornwall
Region SW
National grid square SW
X coordinate 877
Y coordinate 753
Bibliographic source Iago 1899-1900, Bullen 1901, 1902, 1912, Beddoe 1902, Whitley 1902, Crawford 1921a, Hencken 1932, Thomas 1966, Whimster 1977b, 1981


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Last updated: Tues Aug 10 2004