Graveyard Dig 2016 – Bones and Teeth

Alexander cleans a tooth with a toothpick in order to view wear patterns
Alexander cleans a tooth with a toothpick in order to view wear patterns

This week I’d like to introduce a blog entry by Alexander, a member who has played a key role in this year’s dig. He has chosen to look more closely at the stray human teeth we have come across during the season. Whilst we treat all human remains with respect, it seems right for Alexander to take the opportunity to tell something of their story before they are interred once more.

Human Teeth and Bones found in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard, July – August 2016

During our dig, we have found lots of different types of bones. Maybe most surprisingly we have found lots of teeth. We have nineteen individual teeth and one piece of jawbone with two teeth in it. Teeth survive so well in the soil because of the enamel that protects them.

Alot of our teeth show signs of wear. This is because the oats and wheat were stone-milled so small bits of stone got into the flour so, anything that was baked using flour wasn’t very good for the peoples teeth. Wear on teeth can tell us a lot about the lifestyle of the person they belonged to, for instance – there are no cavities in the teeth beacuse there was not much sugar in their diets. We are also assuming that the teeth we have found are all from the individuals that died in the 19th century or earlier because we know that the graveyard wasn’t used for burials after the end of that century.

Worn surface of molar
Worn surface of molar

Molar found on site

This worn molar can tell us about the food that this person ate. Poorer people would eat lots of bread and grains such as oats and wheat. A loaf of bread cost three pennies. Poor families could only afford meat or fish once a week. This was usually saved for Sunday lunch. This coarse food would need lots of chewing and that’s how the teeth were worn down. These cheap foods weren’t very high in vitamins and so health problems such as rickets could occur.

Also on our dig we found lots of small bones that would have have belonged to children.

Child's rib
Child’s rib

Child's rib


This also suggests that health was an issue and mortality rates were high. The large amount of children’s bones we have found suggests infant mortality was high too.


Published by


I am one of the Dunfermline YAC leaders and very old and grumpy.

One thought on “Graveyard Dig 2016 – Bones and Teeth”

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *