ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered the complete skeletons of eight Carmelite monks.

The excavation in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, also revealed that the town's priory is unique, because its layout differs from all other known Carmelite priories and monasteries in Europe.

Housing developer Castle Homes owns the site and will be building a residential development there.

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But it has given assurances that the design of the building will ensure the preservation of the archaeological remains and some of the stonework from the excavation will be incorporated into the new building.

The dig was carried out in 2006 by Durham University's archaeological services department.

It found the remains of three buildings.

A domestic building associated with the priory was discovered to the south and part of the cloister and a range of buildings was discovered in the centre.

Another building, possibly another accommodation building or a small chapel, was found to the north of the site.

David Petts, director of research, said: "This is believed to be unparalleled in European Carmelite houses. Normally it would be expected to find the church to the north of the cloister.

"At other similar sites to Northallerton, such as the priories at Newcastle and Hulne, the churches were to the north, so the situation here is very unusual."

The priory was demolished soon after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 and the researchers are convinced that the remains of other priory buildings survive beneath buildings in the surrounding area.

The discovery of the monks' skeletons has also excited historians.

Dr Petts said: "Eight burials were excavated on the site, all in the cloister, and it's clear that other graves remained unexcavated.

"Analysis of the bones showed that most, if not all, of these graves were of men, and it is likely this was part of the cemetery for the brothers in the priory."

The team of researchers was able to establish from excavated animal bones that the friars had a diet of beef, veal and mutton and, to a lesser extent, pork.

Some of these bones still had the marks made by butchers' knives.

Bird bones were also discovered, including chicken and goose.

Oyster and cockle shells found on the site were probably eaten by the monks on Fridays, when meat was forbidden.

The archaeologists also managed to determine that one individual had been struck on the forehead but lived to tell the tale, and that another had suffered a serious break to the arm but this had healed well.

Another of the monks suffered from gout, a disease usually associated with obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and high blood pressure.

Other finds discovered on the site included two iron shoe buckles and pottery, some of which was made in North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley, while other fragments were from Germany.