Cleaning up in the Carnegie Birthplace Museum

Thanks once more to the wonderful folk at the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum for making us so welcome!

Yet another busy meeting, with Alexander, Algirdas, Archie, Brian, Brodie, Katie, Michal, Nicoleta, Olivia, Ronan and Sienna making it along. Daniel and Andrew Bell tried their best to make it too, but alas, their car broke down en route.

It was a very different meeting to the usual sort. We were joined by Stuart of Youth 1st, who through activity, presentation and brainstorming got us all thinking about leadership in general and youth leadership in particular. Interested members will have the opportunity to join Youth 1st’s programme, with contemporaries from other youth groups, to undertake training and ultimately organise their own events intended to encourage young folk to lead more active lives.

After all that moving around and thinking, we stopped for a wee break and then got down to some therapeutic artefact cleaning. Three trays and a washing up bowl full of bone, pottery and glass (including a marble) were beautifully and carefully washed and laid out to dry, ready for sorting.

Bone identification in progress
Bone identification in progress
Toothbrushes deployed
Toothbrushes deployed
Cleaning is fun!
Cleaning is fun (but don’t tell my mum)!
Mark, look what I found!
Mark, look what I found!

 

Graveyard Dig Day 39

I’m very, very late posting this entry. Sorry 🙁

It is at least still just August!

First day working in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard for a while. We had a really good turn out with Anna, Archie, Brodie, Emily, Keziah, Lee, Michal, Nicoleta and Olivia all working hard.

We have yet another gravestone to investigate, very awkwardly positioned and with a curb, just to make it even more problematic, as you can see below. Archie excavated part of what might have been a coffin handle. Once we have been able to record this stone we will be able to start shunting the fence along towards fresh, unexcavated ground.

Exposing a curb stone as only YC members can
Exposing a curb stone as only YC members can

Rob devoted himself to the passing on of bone knowledge to a much, much younger generation. There was much sorting and identification of fragments of human bone.

The oracle speaketh unto his acolytes
The oracle speaketh unto his disciples
Identification and sorting of bones
Identification and sorting of bones

As usual, sieving of spoil returned a good haul of finds missed during excavation, including bone and clay tobacco pipe fragments.

A pair of sievers sieving
A pair of sievers sieving

Henry took charge of excavating the latest test trench, which is producing a familiar mix of rubbly soil with broken glass, pottery and bone fragments. We are still to high to see if we will come down onto the thick rubble that lies to the south and west of the pit.

Work proceeding in a new test pit
Work proceeding in a new test pit

The Carnegie Birthplace Museum Workshops: Saturday

Trindhøj Bronze Age burial, Denmark
Trindhøj Bronze Age burial, Denmark (Nationalmuseet, Denmark)

We ran a workshop about North European, Bronze Age textiles and clothes in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum on Saturday.

To get some idea of what at least some people wore we looked at images of a group of amazing Bronze Age, Danish burials in hollowed log coffins. Oxygen free conditions have prevented fabrics from rotting, preserving a variety of woollen clothes.

Egtved, Denmark
Egtved, Denmark

One of the most famous burials, excavated in the late 19th century, is known as the Egtved Girl burial, named after the location of the burial mound in which a young woman was found.

The Black Forest
The Black Forest region

Recent research has revealed that the Egtved young woman, along with the clothes in which she was buried, originated in southern Germany and that she died at most just a few months after arriving in Denmark.

Egtved Girl burial reconstruction-Edit
Egtved Girl burial reconstruction

Her woollen clothes really don’t match up to stereotypical images of simple, and primitive prehistoric clothing. She was buried in a cropped blouse and “string” miniskirt that would have looked very cool when she danced at Bronze Age music festivals, especially with the bronze disk over her tummy.

It’s probably just a matter of time before archaeologists identify Bronze Age hand luggage and duty free shopping bags.

You may not be surprised to learn that the clothing recovered from the graves of males tends to be less skimpy and apparently more practical. Archaeologists and re-enactors have put together complete costumes based on items found in different burials in Denmark to give us an idea of what the well dressed Bronze Age man liked to wear.

 

Male clothing

Once again pretty much everything is woollen, with leather shoes and accessories. The cosy and very fetching hat, of which a few examples have survived, is made of felt; wool that has been pressed rather than woven.

Anyway, back in Dunfermline we had a look at the ancient and pretty much universal spinning technology known as drop spindle spinning.

Spinning is the process of taking a raw material, such as wool and turning it into thread that can be woven into cloth. Drop spinning is about as simple as it gets. All you need is:

  • The raw material for your cloth;
  • A stick for your drop spindle;
  • Some kind of weight for the whorl fixed at one end of your spindle;
  • Skill.
Wooden drop spindle
Wooden drop spindle

Lacking the last requirement, we tried enthusiasm instead, with limited success, but much fun.

Archaeologists tend to find just the spindle whorls; they were often made of clay or stone and so survive well. Today it is common for wooden whorls to be used and this may have been so in prehistoric times too.

Whorls survive in various shapes and sizes and sometimes decorated to produce attractive patterns when spinning. So it was out with the air-drying clay, bits of dowel, lolly sticks and cutlery items (used as tools to incise decoration) as members and visitors settled down to making their own spindle whorls.

Making an ellaborate, leafy whorl
Making an ellaborate, leafy whorl
As a new whorl is tken for a spin, another is still at the manufacturing stage
As a new whorl is tken for a spin, another is still at the manufacturing stage
Alexanders spindle whorl
Alexanders spindle whorl

Once some whorls had been produced it was time to attempt to spin some Jacob sheep wool that we happened to have.

A Jacob ewe with fill fleece
A Jacob ewe with full fleece (By John from Wareham, Dorset, England – , CC BY 2.0)

The legend goes that these sheep first came to Britain with the Spanish armada in the 16th century. Recent research by the University of Edinburgh suggests that they are descended directly from sheep breeds in Africa and South West Asia rather than Britain.

The wool felt lovely and soft, but proved tricky to work with. We tried to gently tease out the fibres with fingers as the spindle spun to produce woollen thread.

We watched a video on YouTube that demonstrates how to make thread, but clearly the lady in the video has practised beforehand, probably multiple times. We managed only to make what she makes look easy, seem very hard indeed.

The uinion of wool and drop spindle
The uinion of wool and drop spindle
Testing whorl spin properties
Testing whorl spin properties
Contrasting whorl shapes: the flat and the lumpy
Contrasting whorl shapes: the flat and the lumpy

The experience, apart from being fun, raised questions about the effects of using whorls of different weights or shape and impact of the properties of different kinds of wool on spinning technique and drop spindle design.

What about the decoration, or lack of decoration on whorls at different times and places? Were decorated whorls just intended to look pretty, or were they ever intended to have deeper significance when they were set to spin?

Lots to investigate and think about!

A Workshop at the Scottish Fisheries Museum

We were invited to run a workshop at the Scottish Fisheries Museum on Saturday as one of their East Neuk Unearthed events this summer.

We’ll be back for more on Wednesday 12th of July.

The workshop focused on the medieval archaeology of Scottish burghs, informed by work done over the years in Perth, Dunfermline and Anstruther itself. Participants got to excavate medieval ceramics (some from Anstruther), animal bone, and other bits and bobs. There were post holes filled with ash, burnt coal, charcoal and sand to discover and a ceramic vessel, spread across for mini-dig boxes, to assemble and reconstruct.

Meticulous excavation
Meticulous excavation
A thorough excavation nears its end
A thorough excavation nears its end

Our excavators were aged from almost 8 to 14 and they all did magnificent jobs, working most carefully and thoroughly for more than an hour and thoroughly earned the Heritage Hero awards they achieved.

Reassembling ceramic vessel
Reassembling ceramic vessel
Excavating for more of that pot!
Excavating for more of that pot!
Look what I found!
Look what I found!

Alexander very kindly gave up his afternoon to lug heavy boxes of soil and sand about and stand in the icy wind that blew round the courtyard at the centre of the museum. His only reward was to complete the reconstruction of the vessel and then take it apart again ready for next time. We reckon there are probably two bits missing.

The pot finished at last
The pot finished at last

 

Graveyard Dig, another day …

On Saturday a small band of leaders, dads and YAC members met up in the Abbey Graveyard for a bit of a tidy up.

The grass is cut
Getting to grips with shears that are too long and the wrong tool for the job. Fun though?
Grass nil, Charlotte 1
Grass nil, Charlotte 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve been working in this corner for nearly a year now; this was our 39th session. The grass hasn’t been cut, weeds have not been pulled and after a period of warmth and rain, both are taking full advantage and growing as fast as they can. Well, we taught mother nature a lesson she’ll soon forget, cutting and pulling away around the trenches, in the trenches, round the gravestone, round and on the spoil heaps. The site is pretty much almost nearly tidy now.

We also took the opportunity to begin backfilling trenches that we have finished working in. The gravestones pinned down by spider-like tree roots have been allowed to resume their slumber under the earth, presumably until the trees are cut or fall, or one of our members realises they lost their smart phone on Saturday.

The main DHCP trench and weird roots
Aggressive protective, or roots that are just there?

 

Sieving and backfilling
The sievers recovered small bones, burnt coal and a nice piece of clay tobacco pipe bowl.

Sieving proved productive and therapeutic. We now have more slightly bone, burnt coal and pottery, including another fragment of clay tobacco pipe, to record.

At rest after trimming the long grass around the gravestones.
At rest after trimming the long grass around the gravestones.

There was even a bit of time for passing on the ancient and venerable art of daisy-chain making and wearing.

Passing on the art of making daisy-chains
An aspect of ancient material culture that survives as an action passed on between generations,  leaving no physical trace.
Daisy-chain deployed
Daisy-chain deployed

A Day Trip to Edinburgh

For a change of scene we decided to head off on the train to Edinburgh on Saturday. We thought we might take in an exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland and visit the Archaeology bit of the School of History, Classics and Archeology at Edinburgh University for a bit.

Along with members and leaders of Stirling YAC and Edinburgh YAC we had a look at the free to visit The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial exhibition. It comprises of artefacts and a mummy excavated by the talented, Scottish archaeologist Alexander Henry Rhind (1833 – 1863).

Alexander Henry Rhind (1833-63)

Rhind was ill much of his short life and took to spending part of the year in Egypt for the sake of his health. There he pioneered a rigorous, scientific approach to excavation, just as he did in his native Caithness.

Rhind excavated a tomb originally created for the chief of police in the great city of Thebes more than three thousand years ago, at a time when Egypt was a mighty empire. The tomb was robbed and reused over the millennia, for the last time by a well-to-do Egyptian family living under Roman rule, just a few years before the birth of Christ.

The Chief of Police and his wife in their Sunday best
The Chief of Police and his wife in their Sunday best

Everything he excavated Rhind brought back to Scotland to form the basis of the impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts held by the National Museum of Scotland.

The exhibition is just a taste of the amazing finds that document over a thousand years of Egyptian funerary practice and belief. Once the new Egypt and Asia gallery opens in 2018 there will be even more of Rhind’s finds to see.

We had a very pleasant mooch around the exhibition, marvelling as and when appropriate and taking a really long time to choose from the treasures on display in the shop, conveniently placed at the exhibition exit.

We got round much more quickly than anticipated, so we headed down to the Early People section of the Scottish History and Archaeology Galleries to compare and contrast the material remains of the Scottish cultures contemporary with that of Egypt. There were definitely differences.

Tired, hungry and museumed-out we limped our way to George Square for lunch and a rest in the History, Classics and Archaeology common room. Then, refreshed and alert, we were taken by Laura, YAC leader and postgrad. student, to one of the archeology lab.s for an exciting hour and a half of animal and human bones, disease and anatomy with ceramic reconstruction on the side.

Everyone had an amazing time, learning lots and having fun at the same time.  Our thanks to the students who gave up their Saturday afternoons for our benefit.

Fun with human anantomy
Fun with human anatomy
Reading the bones
Reading the (human) bones
Spot the species
Spot the species – animal bones
Tricky ceramics
Tricky ceramics
Busy YAK members
Busy YAK members with bones in foreground
The trickiest of the tricky ceramics finally taking shape!

 

 

Graveyard Dig Day 38

YAC members hard at work, trowels in hand
YAC members hard at work, trowels in hand

It was pleasantly warm, rather than scorchingly hot under the trees in Dunfermline Abbey graveyard today. It’s the time of year when the annual influx of visitors begins. They arrive wondering what on earth we are doing and usually leave interested and impressed by the work and commitment of our young members.

Today our committed members were Aisling, Alexander, new member Campbell, Daniel, Lee and Sienna. They worked at a multiplicity of tasks, from cleaning and sorting bone fragments to sieving and eating lunch.

Campbell made a great start to his archaeological career today. He proved to be a most dedicated digger and made finds both in the trench he was working in and also when sieving spoil. Indeed Campbell made one of the most unusual finds of the project so far; a tiny metal ball, with a hook for fastening. The fact that it completely untarnished suggests that it is made of silver.

The bell that Campbell found
The silver ball that Campbell found

Bones

Some members spent the entire session cleaning and sorting some of the bone fragments and teeth that the excavation has turned up. The human bone will be studied before being reinterred when we backfill the site. In 2015 we found very little bone at all, but the 2016-17 dig has turned up a lot, mostly very fragmented and mixed with rubble deposits and graveyard soil.

Given that the rubble does not originate from the graveyard, but was brought in and spread in 1927, it seems strange that it should contain human bone. The obvious conclusion is that graveyard soil was being excavated and moved as part of the process of levelling.

 

Bones cleaned and bones fragmented
Bones cleaned and bones fragmented

The skull and crossbones area of the dig seems to confirm this. It seems to have been one of the most heavily disturbed areas that we have so far come across. Beneath a thick layer of compacted rubble, earth and clay were four gravestones; the table stone, probably still in situ, bordered by a group of three broken, dumped stones.

Between these we have come across a narrow area packed with bones, including long bones, that seem to have been thrown in, almost like bundles of sticks. This has been the area richest in both disarticulated human longer bones and butchered animal bone so far.

Human bone, dumped between gravestones
Human bone, dumped between gravestones

Recording the site

Aisling spent the last half hour sketching trench sections, one of which is below. She has nicely captured the essential character of much of the site: gravestones sat on or in a layer of rocks, broken brick and dirt (with some bone), beneath which we are finding higher concentrations of disarticulated bone within yet more dirt.

Section sketch drawn by Aisling
Section sketch drawn by Aisling

Graveyard Dig Day 37, cleaning finds again

This was the first ever YAC meeting to take place in the dry, out of the rain, in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. We were given a lovely warm welcome by the volunteers on duty and some of us even learned the mysteries of the hot drinks machine. We had a fine turnout: Aisling, Alexander, Andrew, Daniel, Douglas, Katie, Keziah, Kathryn, Lee, Olivia, Ryan and Sienna all working hard.

We focused on sorting and cleaning some of the finds made on site in recent weeks. Leader Laura took charge of the bone table, while Charlotte managed the everything else table.

After a great sorting, the water went into the wash basins and out came the  toothbrushes for the washing.

Cleaning shells and bits of broken stuff
Cleaning shells and bits of broken stuff
YAC members fight over what to clean next
YAC members fight over what to clean next
The bone cleaners doing what they do best
The bone cleaners doing what they do best
Just after one of the bones cleaners mysteriously melted
A moment later one of the bones cleaners mysteriously melted, but the survivors were too professional to run away in terror.
Certain YAC members move too quickly for the human eye to quite perceive
Certain YAC members blur more easily than others
Graveyard relic or YAC member, will we ever really know?
Graveyard relic or YAC member, will we ever really know?
Here we see many YAC members hard at work, watch by about 2/3rds of a leader
Here we see many YAC members hard at work, watch by about 2/3rds of a leader

The Dunfermline Abbey Marbles

On the Web for the first time, the fragments of two marbles found by YAC member Ryan whilst sieving spoil from the graveyard excavation. I suppose they were most likely mixed with the demolition material used as fill in 1927, already broken and discarded.

The Dunfermline Marbles
The Dunfermline Marbles

There was also this rather nice shell fossil found along with mixed human and animal bones last Saturday.

The tiny fossil of a tiny shell
The tiny fossil of a tiny shell