At last we have been able to spend some more time working in the graveyard, despite the soil being intermittently waterlogged. Over the last two sessions we have been joined variously by Aisling, Caelan, new member Douglas, Erin, Kathryn, Katie, Lee, Michael, Michal and Olivia.
We have continued to excavate around the last four gravestones to have been revealed. Their surfaces are now clear and we are working to expose their edges, taking down the floor of the trench just far enough to show the thickness of each stone. Once this is done we can take measurements, plan and photograph the stones. We will then think about lifting the stone that lies over the skull-and-cross-bone stone to see if there is an inscription on the other side and record the rest of the skull-and-cross-bone stone.
We have also been sieving both buckets of soil as they come out of the trench and the spoil. For some reason some members seem to find sieving a particularly enjoyable activity and have come up with some artefacts that we would otherwise have missed.
Our new leader, Laura, has been teaching us more about the teeth we have recovered so far. Recently we have come across more animal teeth, mostly cattle, but we think the one below is from a pig.
Last year we found butchered animal bone so it is not really surprising to find teeth as well.
Looking more closely at the human teeth has started to make it sink in that these were once in the mouths of people much like us, living their ordinary lives in Dunfermline, falling ill, getting better, or not. The tooth shown below has slight ridges that represent periods of arrested growth during periods when the body was fighting illness.
Below are deciduous teeth, which of course must have belonged to children who died young and were buried in the graveyard. Of course all of the teeth and other human remains that we have recovered were scattered across the site, mingled with the rubbish laid down in 1927. There is no way to associate any remains with particular plots or individuals.
No digging to day, out in the cold and wet and windy, instead we worked in the warmth of the Cairneyhill Scout Hall, making a start on cleaning the finds from this season’s dig. With Aisling, Kathryn, Katie, Lee, Olivia, Ryan and Sienna (who lets her dad Pete join in a bit) all working hard we made a very good start.
We used old toothbrushes and warm water to gently wash away the graveyard dirt. Most of the finds were ceramic and glass, with some metal; nails and the like, and a few bit of human and animal bone.
There was this funny little fellow and another ornamental animal with just legs surviving. This chap has a flat back so we guess must have been attached to something. Today I would have guessed a fridge magnet, but the latest this is likely to have ended up in the ground was 1927, so not likely.
The two photos below show most of the finds cleaned this afternoon. Bits of plate, cup or jug; oyster shells, broken beer bottles, the stems of clay tobacco pipes, nails and a few bits of bone, some of which had probably been mistaken for muddy pottery on site. A strange mix of little bits of people and little bits of people’s lives, all jumbled together in the soil of Dunfermline waiting for us to find and clean and record.
Having had to cancel a couple of sessions due to bad weather, we finally got back into the graveyard this afternoon to continue excavating. Despite the cold, we had a great turn out, with Alexander, Kathryn, Katie, Lee, Michal, Michael, Olivia, Ronan, Sienna joined by new member Aisling, enjoying her first time working in the graveyard. Sienna and Ronan very kindly allowed a parent each to join in.
We had a very busy couple of hours. Sienna’s dad, Pete, working with Aisling and Michal, finally cleared the surface of the last stone in the main trench we are working in just now. It has a rounded, but partially broken top and is made of badly worn sandstone. No sign of inscription yet, but the surface is still quite muddy and any inscription could just as easily be face-down.
Alexander, brandishing a smart new trowel, worked around one of the other stones so that we can draw a section of the trench edge. Ronan and his mum Alison were next to Alexander, enlarging the trench to clear the east edge of the table stone.
Lee and Michael worked well in the trench in the south east corner of the site, in search of any more buried gravestones. They did find a rather nice handmade brick with mortar still attached.
Finds were mostly fragments of human bone, with some pottery and glass thrown in for good measure, as you will see below.
Kathryn and Katie focused on cleaning some of the winter mud from stones already excavated while Olivia and Sienna spent most of their time sieving for finds in the spoil added to the heap during the course of the afternoon.
I am ashamed to say that we were so busy I kept forgetting to take any photos of the team at work. I have tried to make up for this terrible oversight by photographing some of the finds of the day.
Each of the photographs carries a challenge to YAC members, and anyone else reading this, to do some research and answer some questions about the finds. See how you get on with uncovering some answers. You can always post your ideas or any problems in the comments box below.
Let’s take this rather handsome shell uncovered towards the bottom of the trench. We often find oyster shells, usually much flatter and more crumbly and without the ridge pattern you can see on this one. Which begs the question, is this just another Forth oyster brought up from the oyster beds to be eaten in Dunfermline, or is it perhaps a different species? Can someone investigate?
The Animal Tooth
We found several teeth during the day. The one below is certainly too large to be human and the biting surface suggests a grass-eating herbivore. But is it a cow, horse or some other species? Find some photographs of the teeth of other herbivores to compare and make your decision.
A Bone Fragment
Next we have a small fragment of bone, quite thin, as you can see, and whilst broken at the bottom, the top edge is strangely curved. Assuming it is human, which part of the body is it from? You’ll need to find some evidence to back up your ideas; identifying photographs or drawings would be best. I wonder how large and old the owner of the bone was?
We often find metal objects, encrusted in rust and accretions of stone and dirt. It would be asking an awful lot to expect anyone to be able to work out what this is with any certainty, but have a go anyway.
A Second Fragment of Bone
More bone now, the same bone photographed from two different angles. It was wet from cleaning when I took the photos, which is why it glistens slightly. Do you think it is human? Which part of the body might it be from? Is it possible to tell if it is the bone of an adult or child?
A Sherd of?
Next comes a sherd of something or other. What material do you think it is made of? Any guesses as to what it was once part of?
The Ceramic Sherd
The next piece is clearly pottery (ceramic). The fragmented decoration looks decidedly weird, but might actually make perfect sense if we could work out what it is. Like almost everything else we found today it was probably deposited in 1927, within a layer of rubble. Can anyone find out anything more about it?
A Person’s Tooth
Back to human remains, we have this tooth in two photographs. What kind of tooth is it? Adult or child? And what has happened to it and what might that tell us about the life of the person whose mouth this tooth was once part of?
Finally, another ceramic fragment. Part of the bowl of a tobacco pipe perhaps? What about the strange design? Is this enough of a clue to tell us more about this tiny piece of pottery?
‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the graveyard the sound of YAC members excavating, planning and sieving could be heard quite distinctly. Our seasonal excavators were Erin, Kathryn, Katie, Lee and Michal with a special guest appearance by Erin’s brother Keiron.
We got on really well today, finally exposing the table stone, complete and with a beautifully clear inscription to one Andrew Bridges. Michal also discovered that the base of the stone, which has been visible for some weeks now, is also inscribed “2 Rooms”, which suggests that Mr Bridges was not planning on resting alone in the graveyard.
The record of Andrew’s burial tells us that he was a mason who lived on Woodhead Street (now the north end of Chalmer’s Street). He died in 1833 of dropsy.
Dougie, working very carefully, found the first metal container of the dig over in the north-east corner of the site. It is flattened somewhat and has a bit of a hole in the bottom, but is otherwise complete. It seems to have lugs on either side, but as it has rusted, it has accreted soil and stone, so its form is not clear.
The south edge of the Bridge trench is proving to be interesting. Firstly Mr Bridge’s gravestone continues north underneath the neighbouring low marker, and secondly, the rubble layer appears to continue partially beneath the low marker, with a clear edge between rubble and graveyard soil. This suggests we have yet another low marker that was moved in some way in 1927. We will clean and record the section to make the relationship between the stones and rubble layer as clear as we can.
As you can see if the final photograph, we are excavating another gravestone to the south of Mr Bridge. This one is made of sandstone, so we are proceeding carefully and with little expectation of a surviving inscription; the surface being very pitted and crumbly. So, still plenty to do in the New Year!
We had a really good turn out on Saturday: Alexander, Erin, Kathryn, Katie, Michael, Michal, Olivia and Sienna all put in a good two hours of work. The weather was mild and dry, the mud had dried a little and there was enough of a breeze to keep us midge free. Who could ask for more on a Saturday in December?
Our main effort today was extending the Trench of Four Gravestones westward in order to uncover the rest of two of the stones. We also opened up the rest of the extreme south west corner trench in the hope of finding something other than yet more rubble. No such luck as yet.
Well, the ground wasn’t frozen, it didn’t rain, but the midges were back and we were all itching like anything in the trenches. Being bitten today were Alexander, Erin, Michal and Ryan.
We were able to extend the trench of four gravestones to the east and south today and as you can see from the photos, we made excellent progress. Dougie, Erin and Michal worked fearlessly on the site plan.
The photograph below shows how the rubble layer just below the surface seems to deepen to the north (red end of ranging rod). We will draw a section of the trench before extending west to expose the rest of the two stones still disappearing into the mud.
The east end of the table stone lies beneath the ranging rod. As yet we haven’t found any inscription, so perhaps it is a blank. It is pretty clear from the photograph above that the rubble layer continues underneath the low marker at the trench edge, which suggests that the stone was perhaps raised and put back during the landscaping work carried out in 1927.
Once we have planned the stone fragments we will lift the larger stone to fully expose the skull and crossed bones beneath and to see if any inscription survives on either stone.
It has been cold in the graveyard over the last few days and the ground has frozen. Even though it was a little milder today the ground was still too hard to allow deturfing. Consequently we couldn’t extend the trench with the four recently discovered gravestones.
Luckily Caelan, Erin, Kathryn and Lee were able to clear leaves, work on the site plan and finish excavating the southern trench, the bottom of which was unfrozen. By the end of the session we were satisfied that we had cleared the rubble layer and reached graveyard soil. You can see the depth of the rubble from the photograph below, taken of the trench just to the north.
Kathryn and Erin probed the bottom of the trench for gravestones, but came up empty. We can clean the sides of the trench, record it and then backfill.
This week members easily spent as much time being cold, not sharing their crisps, singing a song in which grapes appeared to feature quite a bit, stabbing fallen leaves with a ranging rod and insisting on password protection for entry to the site, as they did on archaeology.