Dog walkers find ancient human skull on West Wittering beach

Picture by Roger Pagram
Picture by Roger Pagram
David Cotton. Picture: Sussex Police

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A couple’s stroll along West Wittering beach with their dog took an unexpected and unpleasant turn when they discovered a human skull.

Helen and Alan Frost from Fishbourne were combing the beach for materials when they came across something which immediately looked odd.

Helen, from Fishbourne, says she was totally shocked when she was told it was a human skull

Helen, from Fishbourne, says she was totally shocked when she was told it was a human skull

Helen, 57, explained: ‘I am an artist who likes to work using found materials and so I am always scouring the beach for interesting items to use in my art - rusty metal, distressed wood, fishing line, worn plastics and so on.

‘I will always take a bag to save the items that I can use and also to pick up plastic bottles, tin cans, balloons and other rubbish which is harmful to marine life.

‘On this occasion, I came across a broadly spherical object with an opening at one side. It was hard and looked brittle as the opening had a jagged edge.

‘I knew that I had not seen such a thing before and took a couple of photographs intending to share them on the Facebook group Beachcombing British Coastline and ask advise as to what the object might be.

‘My initial thought was that it might be the shell from some exotic creature.

‘Ideas from the Facebook group included coco de mer and coconut but many people said that it was a human cranium. This came as a complete surprise to me.’

Helen contacted police and scenes of crime officers came and collected the skull before passing it on to an anthropologist for dating.

Initial investigations suggest the skull is old and a Sussex Police spokesman said: ‘Police were called at 10.34am on Monday, January 30, after a human skull was discovered at East Head on West Wittering beach.

‘At this stage it is not believed to be linked to any suspicious circumstances but has been sent away for forensic analysis.’

Helen added: ‘I would love to know how old the skull is and anything else about it, but I have no desire to have it at home or to find another!’

Chichester District Council’s Archaeologist, James Kenny said: ‘We can’t be sure how old the skull is until it has been radiocarbon dated by specialists, but from its condition it seems unlikely to be modern. Historic human remains have been found on the beach between the Witterings and Selsey Bill on a number of occasions in recent years. Some probably came from an unofficial cemetery that was established on the foreshore north of East Head in the 18th century, perhaps either for shipwreck victims or French prisoners of war. However, a fragmentary skeleton discovered near to the new breach at Medmerry a couple of years ago proved to be of Iron Age date – more than two thousand years old.’