The remains of a child which could date back 500 years have been unexpectedly discovered in the grounds of a church, the Gazette can exclusively reveal.
A skull, shoulders, arms and ribs were uncovered along with nails from a coffin by an archeologist while builders dug the footing for an extension to Dunstable Baptist Church, on St Mary’s Gate.
Evidence suggest that the remains, which were situated away from the church’s burial ground, originate from the post medieval period between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The sex of the child is unknown, though the size of the bones suggests that it was between 10 and 18 years of age at the time of its death.
Joe Abrams, of Headland Archeology, told the Gazette: “The remains are from a juvenile, a relatively young person.
“The bones would have been in a wooden coffin which is gone, but the nails from it were there.
“Dunstable sits on chalk and anything which cuts into it shows up more than with other soils.
“The church history of Dunstable is quite rich as there are a lot of burial grounds in what you might call the core of the town.
“It was really apparent on the first day watching the machine that something might be found.”
As the remains were found in the churchyard the discovery has thrown up numerous questions, not least about the child who was buried there.
The skeleton of the juvenile was only partially dug up during the work due to its fragile state and the state of the land around it and the remains that were not uncovered at the time will be left in place.
Bones that were taken away for analysis will later be reburied.
Archeological best practice is to bury the remains as near as possible to where they were found.
Mr Abrams said: “We know that the remains continued on...the burial is cut into the chalk.
“One of our jobs is to treat human remains with dignity, so we covered them, removed them and will later rebury them.”
Dunstable Baptist Church’s history in St Mary’s Gate dates back to 1708, when followers of preacher John Bunyan moved over from Kensworth.
In 1807 the church was enlarged but it had to be entirely rebuilt in 1849 when a violent storm caused the roof to fall in.
The human remains found on May 12 are known to predate that demolition as the grave had been coveredover by the debris from that clearance.
The recovery of the burial came alongside another discovery of vitrified materials – which indicates that the church could have been built on the site of a building that burnt down hundreds of years ago.
Headland Archeology is checking archives for records of building fires around the area, in an attempt to ascertain what the former structure could have been.
Churchgoer John Keeble, who has organised the church extension, said: “We weren’t expecting it, one never knows what will be found on a site.
“As part of the planning permissions we had to have an archeologist on site.
“It was one those things to be dealt with at the time, now we’ll get on with the building work.”