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Archaeology

Long-lost medieval stone with mysterious carvings discovered in Wales

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    The 'Silian 3' stone was discovered by chance alongside a stream in the Welsh village of Silian.Nikki Vousden/ RCAHMW

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    Nikki Vousden points to the spot where she and Roderick Bale stumbled upon the Silian 3 stone.Nikki Vousden

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    Aerial photograph of St Sulien's Church where the Silian 3 stone is on display.Crown Copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

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    Nancy Edwards and others examine the rock's engravings.Nikki Vousden

In a small Welsh village, Nikki Vousden and Roderick Bale were enjoying an evening stroll in the woods when a rock with strange carvings by the side of a stream caught their attention. Both archeologists, they knew it was no ordinary slab.

It took a late night in the library and a call with an expert to realize they had discovered a long-lost medieval stone with religious significance.

"We were going for a stroll in the evening and we sort of noticed the stone, half sticking out of the stream," Vousden of the of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales told FoxNews.com. It had been raining and the water made the carvings stand out, causing Vousden and Bale of the University of Wales to further investigate.

The Silian 3 stone is thought to be an ecclesiastical monument, possibly used as a boundary or grave marker.

They quickly called Nancy Edwards, an expert in ancient and medieval history, and described to her the linear Latin cross within a lozenge-shaped ring that appeared on the rock. Edwards confirmed it as the Silian 3 stone, an artifact she had been searching for since labeling it with a question mark in her book A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales.

All three were excited to discover the stone, one of 28 missing early Christian monuments in the south-west Wales area. "There are 216 known inscribed stones and stone crosses," Vousden explained. "Twenty-eight of them are missing, (now) excluding Silian 3."

"One of the most exciting things was to go to the library and see the cast (in Edward's book) and realize it was real," Bale told FoxNews.com.

The Silian 3 stone, which is thought to be an ecclesiastical monument, possibly used as a boundary or grave marker, is one of three known stones in Wales that have the same cross in lozenge design; the Llanllawer 3 from St David's Church and the Llandecwyn 1 from St Tecwyn's Church have the same pattern. 

The Silian 3 stone is unique, however. Measuring approximately 30 inches by 15 inches, it has been missing for centuries, aside from a mysterious plaster cast commissioned by the National Museum of Wales in 1914.

"We only know that the National Museum (of Wales) had a program of commissioning plaster casts to make a national archive," Vousden said. The program ended in 1914 and the cast is thought to be made by a W. Clakre Llandaff.

It was this cast that Edwards included in her book and besides the mold, there is no record of the Silian 3 stone before or after the cast was produced.

According to Vousden, no one in the village has any prior recollection of the stone, which dates back to the 9th or 10th century, or any idea why it was carelessly tossed away into the woods.

The stone, now on display at the Saint Sulien's Church, is the first step in discovering more about the rich history of the small village of Silian, which dates back to the 5th or 6th century.

"It's a really amazing find and it's generating a lot of interest locally as it makes people think what else there might be to find," Bale said. "Every day we go for a walk down there and you never know, you might be lucky and find something."

Considering the stone was found near the church which has been in use for nearly 1,500 years, it is likely that there is a lot more left to discover in the village of Silian.

"Documentary sources and landscape evidence indicate that Silian was once a place of significance with an important early Christian ecclesiastical site," said Vousden, who lives in Silian and completed her undergraduate dissertation on the village from a landscape and archeological perspective, including a chapter on the Saint Sulien's Church.

The community is small, consisting of only 300 members, and both Vousden and Bale hope the discovery of the Silian 3 stone will help bring more awareness "of the historic value of small out-of-the-way villages like Silian."

Vousden plans to apply for funding in order to display the medieval monument in the church which has caused much excitement in the village.

"We also plan to apply for funding to carry out a community excavation," she said. "This will hopefully inform us in more detail about the age of the site and how it has evolved into what we see today. It is hoped that having the chance to engage with the history of the village (we) will help the people of Silian regain a sense of ownership of their village and a sense of belonging to a community."