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.
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.
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.
As usual, sieving of spoil returned a good haul of finds missed during excavation, including bone and clay tobacco pipe fragments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
Once some whorls had been produced it was time to attempt to spin some Jacob sheep wool that we happened to have.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
On Saturday a small band of leaders, dads and YAC members met up in the Abbey Graveyard for a bit of a tidy up.
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.
Sieving proved productive and therapeutic. We now have more slightly bone, burnt coal and pottery, including another fragment of clay tobacco pipe, to record.
There was even a bit of time for passing on the ancient and venerable art of daisy-chain making and wearing.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There was also this rather nice shell fossil found along with mixed human and animal bones last Saturday.
Another busy couple of hours in the graveyard. Disappointingly, no more buttons were found, but we bore up well in the circumstances. We had another good turn out: Aisling, Alexander, Archie, Katie, Katheryn, Lee, Michal, Olivia and Ryan all doing their bit for Scottish archaeology.
Lee and leader Dougie got tantalisingly close to completing work on the south east frontier. Today yet more fragments of porcelain petal came out, along with a brick and what seems to be a broken ear ring, among other things.
The hard, dry ground kept progress fairly slow elsewhere on site. Slowly but surely we are levelling out trenches to the bases of the gravestones we have worked so hard to reveal. There was painstaking excavation of human and animal bone, all of it probably dumped unceremoniously between gravestones during levelling work in 1927. We have started to use wooden ice lolly sticks when working on bone so as not to damage them with our metal trowels.
Sieving buckets of spoil continues to pay dividends. Ryan was lucky enough to discover two fragmented marbles, our first finds of toys on the site.