A SKELETON discovered within the ground of Hereford Cathedral has been dated back to the origins of the city.

Archaeological excavations were undertaken in connection with improvements to buildings and facilities in the College Cloisters beside the cathedral.

Staff from Hereford-based Headland Archaeology found three skeletons at a depth of nearly two metres within an area formerly occupied by the 15th century

Custos Lodge.

Analysis of the skeletons revealed that one, a middle aged man, had suffered at least four, possibly five, blade injuries, two of which would have been fatal in their own right.

Radiocarbon dating of the skeleton revealed that it dated to between AD 680-780, placing the individual at a key point in the development of Hereford.

Luke Craddock-Bennett, project manager at Headland Archaeology, said: “This is an incredibly important burial in the history of our city. It takes us back to the origins of Hereford, before Offa’s dyke had been constructed and when it was a vulnerable settlement on the frontier between Mercia and the Welsh. This individual suffered an incredibly violent end, more than likely in battle.”

None of the injuries show any trace of healing indicating that they were all inflicted around the time of death.

The first significant blow was inflicted with a very sharp, narrow blade delivered from behind the victim, in a downward direction.

This injury would almost certainly have been fatal, and would have definitely caused paralysis of the legs had the victim survived.

The second significant injury was a very powerful blow administered to the skull, inflicted with an edged weapon, again from behind. The blade cut through the entire thickness of the skull and into the brain and the injury must have been almost immediately fatal.

Out of the thousands of burials excavated around the cathedral only one other burial has been securely dated to before the Norman Conquest, prior to this discovery.

Documentary sources record that at the beginning of the 8th century the Welsh were troubling the English with their attacks. In AD743 the kings of Mercia and Wessex campaigned together against the Welsh, and reference is made to the frequent violent skirmishes which took place between the two forces during the period. Although little detail of the event is known, several Welsh sources record a battle of Hereford taking place in AD760.

The Dean of Hereford, The Very Reverend Michael Tavinor, said: “We have long suspected that the earliest cathedral in Hereford was located in the vicinity of College Cloisters – with this burial we now have another key piece of evidence to indicate that this is indeed the case.”