The mystery surrounding the human bones discovered on the Cornish coast

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The human skeleton found at Trevone Credit: ITV News

Experts at Cornwall Archaeological Unit say they've uncovered fascinating details about two sets of human bones found on the Cornish coast.

Analysis of a partial skeleton found on cliffs at Trevone near Padstow, and a human skull spotted during a beach clean at Sennen, has revealed insights into who they may have been, why they were found at these places and how they lived their lives.

Once the authorities had determined the bones were historic, Dr Richard Mikulski from Cornwall Archaeological Unit excavated the sites and analysed the skeletons.  

Dr Mikulski has identified the Sennen skull as most likely that of an older bronze age man, dated 1300bc.

He told ITV News: "The bone is very well-preserved, especially given how old this individual is.

"We know that West Penwith has got prehistoric archaeology all over it, and this suggests some sort of burial. Whether it was in the place where we found it or whether it was further up the hill in the dune system we don't know at this point.''

The skull was found buried in sand dunes at Sennen Credit: Cornwall Council

Ann Reynolds, Senior Officer for the Rural Historic Environment at Cornwall Council who was involved in the excavations last winter said:

“Although only the skull remained of the Sennen body, radiocarbon dating has placed this individual firmly into the Middle Bronze Age, living around 3300 years ago."

Ann said the human bones found on cliffs near Trevone in November 2022 have been easier to analyse.

She said: “We can piece together far more about the remains at Trevone, which provide revealing insights into this individual and their lifestyle.

"They are most likely to be male and of somewhere between 25 to 40 years of age at the time of death.

"Radiocarbon dating has indicated that the remains date from the 18th century, potentially as early as 1580 but no later than 1800 in date, although the results gave a higher level of probability of around 1700."

She continued: "The bones suggest that the individual had done a lot of very heavy manual labour, like pulling and hauling, and fit with the theory that this was a shipwrecked mariner.

"Some activity-related wear to the teeth may also be consistent with a sailing lifestyle as there is a suggestion of repeated holding of cord/rope in their mouth from wear patterns on the teeth.

"In all, the evidence is as good as we will ever get to suggest that this was indeed an 18th century shipwrecked sailor."

The partial skeleton was found near Trevone Credit: Cornwall Council

Martyn Alvey, portfolio holder for Environment and Climate Change at Cornwall Council, said: “This is a fascinating insight into the life and times of a mariner which is so synonymous with Cornwall and our seafaring history.

"It will be interesting to see what else the wonders of modern science and forensics may be able to discover about this man, and the individual from Bronze Age times, before they are finally laid to rest once more.”  

More research is expected to be carried out on the bones this summer, which could reveal if they were people local to Cornwall or had travelled from other countries.

There are plans for both sets of bones to eventually be re-buried in special ceremonies, most likely at a consecrated location near to where there were discovered.

Cornwall Council says if any human remains are found by a member of the public, they should not be touched or moved and should be reported immediately to the police.