Archaeology News

St Patrick’s Chapel Dig – final report available


Final Report for St Patrick's Chapel dig now available

The view or download the whole document click one the link below


Report Summary below

Coastal erosion has been affecting St Patrick’s early medieval cemetery and medieval chapel at Whitesands, St Davids, Pembrokeshire since at least the mid-twentieth century. Storms in January and February 2014 exposed several burials, following which Dyfed Archaeological Trust in partnership with the University of Sheffield carried out five seasons of excavation: 2014–16, 2019 and 2021, funded by Cadw, the Nineveh Trust, the EU funded Ancient Connections project and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

The earliest elements of the site consisted of an oval stone-built enclosure, 5.5m × 4.5m, with a centrally placed rectangular structure, 1.4m × 1.0m, dating to the mid eighth century. Several of the stones of the structure were carved — a ring-cross with interlace design, a human figure dressed in a tunic with stick arms raised, and an inscription reading ‘donoec’ (an Irish compound name meaning something like ‘dark youth’ or ‘noble warrior’). Evidence of occupation, mammal, bird and fish bones, cereal grains and other carbonised seeds, and craft production accompanied this early element, including the manufacture of copper alloy artefacts and amber working. Wind-blown sand rapidly covered these early elements.

In the mid- late eighth/ninth century a substantial stone-built cemetery enclosure wall was built over oval enclosure and rectangular structure, and the first burials appeared.
The first burials were of young children. Sand continued to accumulate, and as it did so
more burials were put in the ground. Over 250 burials were excavated, stacked up to eight deep in the sand, between the mid- late eighth/ninth century and c. 1100. After the first phase of child burial, both children and adults were buried. The earliest burials were simple dug graves; later in the sequence cist graves appeared.

In the eleventh/twelfth century a layer of rubble was laid down covering the early medieval cemetery and a stone-built chapel constructed. Burials accompanying the chapel consisted of cist graves capped with quartz pebbles or in some examples with limpet shells. All were of children. The chapel was abandoned during the sixteenth century.


Uncovering the Past

Archaeology Project

Uncovering the Past

The ‘Uncovering the Past’ archaeological project will investigate sites in Pembrokeshire and North Wexford by geophysical survey to reveal information about the early Celtic Church, Celtic Saints, their followers and subsequent pilgrimage that will uncover more information about historical links between the two regions thereby contributing to the cross-border story. Geophysics is a technique that takes readings of the surface of the earth and what is below it by generating an electronic signal recording the archaeology under the ground and mapping it.

The ecclesiastical landscapes of Pembrokeshire and Wexford capture in their churches, chapels and cemeteries the stories and associations with Saints David and Aidan – a reminder of the importance of the shared Atlantic sea-lanes that served to link the churches of Ireland and Wales.

The sites targeted so far are:-

Pembrokeshire February 2021.

St David’s Cathedral was clearly the focus of substantial ecclesiastical activity in the 1st millennium AD as an episcopal centre, the possibility of the survival of earlier medieval features had been raised and geophysics was completed on Chanters Orchard in August 2020 to the south-west of the cathedral. The results reveal a lot of activity with intriguing features potentially relating to  earlier enclosures, a potential boundary wall and features associated with the nawdd  (zone of sanctuary).

Mathry Church – a large early medieval circular enclosure around possibly a 5th or 6th century precursor to the ecclesiastical site at St David’s.

Llanrhian Church environs – a potential early medieval church enclosure.

Waun y Beddau Cemetery/Carreg Nymllwyd  – the names suggest an early medieval burial ground which has already produced graves of early medieval date.

Capel yr Hen Fynwent – the name means ‘the chapel of the old cemetery’ which implies an earlier medieval or early medieval phase of activity at the site.

Rosina Vallis/Hodnant – a possible  predecessor of the later ecclesiastical site at St David’s defined by an enclosure with fragments of medieval floor tile.

Wexford August 2021

Ferns Abbey – Founded at the turn of the 7thtcentury by St Aidan, also known as St Máedhóg (who died in 624). He was reputed to have been a pupil of St David of Wales. There are three plain granite crosses and a cross slab that testify to the earlier origins of Ferns. Diarmait MacMurrough King of Leinster reputedly died at Ferns in 1171 and the broken fragment of a decorated high cross in the graveyard is said to mark his grave. Ferns was later known as St Mary’s Abbey and that field contains the probable early monastery and monastic enclosure that have been already been targeted for excavation by the Irish Archaeological Field School and geophysics will help with the excavation targeting.

Toombe church – probably an early monastery with an oval ecclesiastical enclosure consisting of an inner and an outer enclosure.

Ballyorley Upper – an early ecclesiastical enclosure  with a tradition of being an early church site.

Kilmyshall – site of an early  church, graveyard and holy well in an oval enclosure.

Date: October 2019 – February 2022

In Partnership with: DigVentures/MetGeo for Pembrokeshire County Council, in partnership with Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Wexford County Council and Visit Wexford

Project Outputs:
Geophysical Report
Project Page on the DigVentures Website
Participation in Geophysical Events
Workshops on how to do Geophysics

Learn More at:


Discovering Saint Aidan’s Monastery – Ferns

Archaeology Project

Discovering Saint Aidan’s Monastery - Ferns

In June 2021 the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) will launch a major next archaeological excavation at the site of St Aidan’s Monastery, Ferns, Co. Wexford. The project, established as a partnership between the IAFS, Wexford County Council and the local community, aims to assess one of the most historically significant, but hitherto relatively unassessed, Early Medieval sites in southeast Ireland. The St Aidan’s Monastery project is centred on a major research excavation of both the 7th century monastery and a latter 12th century Augustinian Abbey, which hopes to draw the site into the town of Ferns as a ‘key heritage attraction’, in the process providing added economic and amenity value to the local community.

A Historically Important Site

The site is a multi-period complex, originally founded by St Aidan at the turn of the 7th century, which also contains Early Medieval crosses and cross slabs, a twelfth century Augustinian Abbey (founded by the King of Leinster, Diarmuid McMurrough), and thirteenth century medieval cathedral (Edan’s Cathedral) within its wider confines. However, despite the historical importance of the site, or the occurrence of limited archaeological work there in the recent past, the site does not feature heavily as a heritage attraction; our work is an important step in establishing the monasteries rightful importance to the medieval histories of Co. Wexford in both the Early Medieval and High Medieval periods.

The official launch of the excavation element is in summer 2021. However, considerable progress has been made in 2019 in terms of non-invasive surveys (3D Lidar scanning at the site and Ferns Castle), geophysical assessments (at the possible site of Clone Church) and a community excavation in December 2019 (the latter of which is now being finalised into a publication). Phase 1 of the project was anticipated to run for three excavation seasons, from 2020-2022, but has since been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The first project phase is partly funded by the Ancient Connection initiative, a new cross-border arts and heritage project linking North Pembrokeshire and North Wexford; it is hoped the project will run for many years thereafter.

Date: 2021 – 2022

Funded by: Ancient Connections, Wexford County Council and the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS)

Learn More at:

In Partnership with: Ancient Connections, Wexford County Council and the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS)

Project Outputs: Vlog, Blog, Mini-Documentary Videos, Reports, Social Media Outreach, Community Events, Publications, Public Lectures etc.


St Patrick’s Chapel Excavation

Archaeology Project

St Patrick’s Chapel Excavation

The site of St Patrick’s Chapel is a sandy, grassy mound lying between the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and a beach immediately to the north of a car park at Whitesands Bay, St Davids. Surprising little is known about the chapel prior to recent excavations.

In January 2014 the site was damaged when a series of almost continuous storms hit the west coast of Britain. Dyfed Archaeological Trust and the University of Sheffield, with financial support from Cadw and other organisations excavated the most damaged part of the site over a total of eight weeks in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The excavations demonstrated that a cemetery had been founded in the late eighth century AD and continued in use until at least the eleventh century. A stone-built chapel was built on the site in the twelfth/thirteenth century – this was ruinous by the sixteenth century.

Three more seasons of excavation are taking place as part of the Ancient Connections project. The first of these took place over three weeks in 2019, with two more three-weeks seasons planned for 2021. During the 2019 excavation the foundation walls of the western end of the stone-built chapel were recorded, carefully dismantled and the stone safely stored – the foundations will be rebuilt following completion of the excavation in 2021. Dismantling the foundations will allow for the excavation of the graves and archaeological deposits beneath the chapel during 2021. Outside the chapel the 2019 excavation uncovered several burials, several in stone-lined graves, called long cist graves, including some with crosses lightly scratched on the covering slabs indicating the Christian beliefs of the people buried on the site.

Community Involvement

Members of the local community as well as volunteers from further afield are participating in the excavation under the supervision of professional archaeologists. Beyond direct engagement with the participants on the excavation, community outreach is an important element of the project and one member of staff is dedicated to giving guided tours of the excavation to visitors. It is anticipated that 6000 visitors will be shown around the site during each three-week excavation season.

To learn more about our excavations visit us at:

The Dyfed Archaeology Trust welcomes volunteers for the St Patrick’s Chapel digs in 2021. Due to the high level of interest in volunteering on dig sites, details for how to find out more about this opportunity will be advertised here once dates have been confirmed for the digs.

Date: July 2019 – March 2022

Funded by: Funded by The European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales co-operation fund and Cadw

In Partnership with: 
Dyfed Archaeological Trust, The University of Sheffield, the PCNPA

Project Outputs: 
Interim and final project reports. (Click to download)

‘Dig diaries’ of each year’s excavation
Guided tours are provided during each season of excavation
Talks to local and national groups and societies
Short items on TV news and programmes

Learn More at: