THE discovery of two skeletons under the foundations of a County Durham church could be evidence that the 12th century building is on the site of an older place of worship.

The skeletons of an adult and juvenile were discovered by archaeologist John Buglass when he was doing a survey at St Helen’s Church, in Kelloe, which is undergoing refurbishment.

Mr Buglass said the discovery of the bones, which he believes pre-date the church, meant it was likely that there was a Saxon church on the site prior to the Norman structure.

The Northern Echo:

Part of the skeleton of an adult found underneath St Helen's Church, Kelloe

It is hoped the discovery will help St Helen's Parochial Church Council (PCC) find out more about the history of the Grade I listed building, which was built in about 1150.

Further work will be done, which could include getting the bones carbon dated, to find out exactly how old they are.

Keith Pounder, from the PCC said: “It’s marvellous news that might provide further details about the history of the church. We will be making attempts to fully authenticate the age of the bones.

“One wonders what else might be thrown up.”

Mr Buglass said: “It's not unusual to find skeletons in a grave yard. However, what is unusual is what the relationship with the wall can tell us about the early history of the church."

The Northern Echo:

St Helen's Church, in Kelloe

He added: "It looks like the skeletons pre-date the church because the wall has cut straight though them.

"It means there could have been an earlier structure on the site."

He added: "Hopefully the architect will go back to find extra funding to get them carbon dated and we can see how much older than the church they are.

"They could go back to the late Saxon era, which would be quite unusual.

"If we can get that information it would be great."

Carbon dating would enable the bones to be given a date range of a couple of decades.

The bones from two skeletons were found, including the leg bones on an adult and the ribs and legs of a juvenile.

They were discovered on top of each other, separated by a thin layer of soil.

The archaeological survey of the church, carried out as part of a programme of restoration, has also led to the discovery of part of the Thornley porch, more than 200 years after the chantry chapel, which was founded in 1347, was demolished.

A section of wall, about four of five feet high, was found and has since been covered up again.

The restoration programme has also led to ongoing investigations into the age of the church's font, where it was thought Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was baptised.

Recent investigations suggest it may not be as old as previously thought though work is ongoing to establish its age.