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HER Number:MDV558
Name:Burials on Cliffs at Saunton Down, Georgeham


Four burials were recovered between 1996 and 1998 at the same location where human bones were found in the early 1900s. The bones were originally thought to date to the Neolithic period, but pewter and bone buttons found with the more recently discovered burials date to the 16th-17th century. They are now considered to represent the impromptu burials of four seamen or ship's passengers washed ashore nearby.


Grid Reference:SS 432 386
Map Sheet:SS43NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishGeorgeham
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishGEORGEHAM

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS43NW/3

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • INHUMATION (XVI to XVII - 1501 AD to 1700 AD (Between))

Full description

Unknown, 10/05/2012, Buttons Suggest Clues to the Identity of Beach Skeletons (Article in Serial). SDV349404.

Young, T., 1908, On the Occurrence of Human Remains of Neolithic Age Near Croyde, 260-263 (Article in Serial). SDV342395.

Shallow grave found in side of cliff below Down End House, containg part of a skeleton of less than average size, possibly male. Flint found nearby indicated internment belonging to Neolithic period.

Worth, R. H., 1937, 5th Report of the Barrow Committee, 101 (Article in Serial). SDV64709.

Saunton down. On pathway leading to beach below Down End house bone found. More bones of fibula and tibia found in cliff face, well-defined cavity found in the cliff: a shallow grave. Other bones found. Ridged flake also discovered, having fallen from or from near the grave on to the beach. Thought at time to be a Neolithic interment. Cavity was shingle-lined. Flints and crab remains associated with it. Unlikely that the burial is a Neolithic one.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1953, SS43NW 7 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV342400.

Neolithic Cist Inhumation (probable site of)
1. Area centred on SS43413876. In 1903, on the little pathway leading to the beach, below Down End House were found fragments of human bone. This led to the discovery of an inhumation in an un-lined cist in the cliff face. It was 3 feet deep and the upper edge of the grave was 18 inches below ground level. Dataed as Neolithic.
2. Visited on 01/10/1953. Topographically this site is below Down End House. It is a little pathway - now concreted - and is the only footpath shown on Ordnance Survey 6 inch 1905 in the immediate vicinity. It is therefore the probable site referred to in T1. There were no surface finds in the soft cliff face which is subject to erosion.

Bayer, O. J., 1996, Archaeological Excavation of Human Remains at Saunton Down End, Croyde Bay, Devon, 1-2 (Report - Excavation). SDV342405.

A human burial found on the southern edge of Croyde Bay was investigated over 2 days in September 1996. The skeleton lay fully extended on its back, oriented north-south. The skull was to north, tilted to face the east and slightly raised above the level of the body. The hands were crossed left-over-right upon the pelvis. During the final cleaning of the burial, the right side of a 2nd burial was discovered, with the right arm of this interment lying over the left arm of the body to its west, indicating a sequence of burial. This grave was backfilled leaving the 2nd burial undisturbed, and as no eastern edge to this grave was located, there is the possibility for further interments to the east. Buttons found with the first burial are believed to be of Post Medieval date, and it is possible these were shipwreck victims. Other details: Figure 1.

Horner, W., 1996, Untitled Source (Personal Comment). SDV342403.

Arm bone exposed by coastal erosion at above location in September 1996. Excavations 11-12 and 14 september 1996 revealed at least 4 north-south aligned inhumations, finds include bone buttons and a decorated silver button. Further research in progress, co-ordinated by North Devon Museum Service. Other details: Slides.

Mills, A., 1997, Report from the Museum of North Devon (Un-published). SDV342401.

Excavations at Saunton Down followed the discovery of a human bone at the location of a reported Neolithic burial discovered early this century. The burial turned out to be Post Medieval in date, and further excavations of 2 more skeletons were carried out. The skeletons were found in a shallow cliff composed of glacial deposits. They were carefully laid out side by side, two with their hands crossed. They were not oriented east-west and there was no trace of coffins. A number of buttons were found with the bodies, indicating they were buried with their clothes. After cleaning these seem to be 17th century in date, and compare well with excavated examples from the Netherlands. The area is noted for the number of wrecks that have occurred, although there are no records before 1798. The bone buttons recovered probably came from underwear, while the type, number and location of the metal buttons are consistent with a doublet or waistcoat. Analysis of the bones suggest that skeletons 1 and 3 are young adult males, and show signs of heavy manual labour. Skeleton 2 is probably also male.

Unknown, 1997, Untitled Source (Unattributed Sites and Monuments Register Entry). SDV342404.

Burials of foreign sailors reputed to have taken place in the Dartmouth area (see Monument ID 33142)

Collings, A. G. + Manning, P. T. + Valentin, J., 2007, The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Phase 1. Archaeological Survey. Summary Report, 1124 (Report - Assessment). SDV339712.

Saunton Down. Partial skeleton and shells and flint in unlined cist found in early 20th century on path to beach below Down End House. Further bone exposed by erosion in 1996 at given NGR; 4 burials excavated, C17 buttons found. Poss. shipwreck victims.

Gent, T., 2011, Post-Medieval Beach Burials at Croyde Bay, 189-198 (Article in Serial). SDV359824.

Between 1996 and 1998 four adult male burials were recovered from a low promontory above the beach at Croyde Bay. One appears to have been wearing sea boots. Pewter and bone buttons associated with three of the burials suggest a 16th-17th century date. They are considered to represent the impromptu burials of four seamen or ship's passengers washed ashore nearby. See report for full details.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV339712Report - Assessment: Collings, A. G. + Manning, P. T. + Valentin, J.. 2007. The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Phase 1. Archaeological Survey. Summary Report. Exeter Archaeology Report. 06.22 (rev.1). A4 Stapled + Digital. 1124. [Mapped feature: #35266 ]
SDV342395Article in Serial: Young, T.. 1908. On the Occurrence of Human Remains of Neolithic Age Near Croyde. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 40. A5 Hardback. 260-263.
SDV342400Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1953. SS43NW 7. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV342401Un-published: Mills, A.. 1997. Report from the Museum of North Devon. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV342403Personal Comment: Horner, W.. 1996.
SDV342404Unattributed Sites and Monuments Register Entry: Unknown. 1997.
SDV342405Report - Excavation: Bayer, O. J.. 1996. Archaeological Excavation of Human Remains at Saunton Down End, Croyde Bay, Devon. Exeter Archaeology Report. 96.69. A4 Stapled + Digital. 1-2.
SDV349404Article in Serial: Unknown. 10/05/2012. Buttons Suggest Clues to the Identity of Beach Skeletons. North Devon Journal. Digital.
SDV359824Article in Serial: Gent, T.. 2011. Post-Medieval Beach Burials at Croyde Bay. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 69. Paperback Volume. 189-198.
SDV64709Article in Serial: Worth, R. H.. 1937. 5th Report of the Barrow Committee. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 69. A5 Hardback. 101.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds

  • FDV6343 - BUTTON (Undated)

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:May 10 2017 3:52PM