A whole week late, here is a brief report of work on the graveyard dig on April 22nd. I can only apologise to members and leaders alike for my tardiness and assure them that it will almost definitely happen again.
We had a very good turnout today with Aisling, Alexander, Andrew, Archie, Daniel, Douglas, Ella, Katie, Kathryn, Keziah, Michal and Olivia all on site. Once again it was dry, which is all very well, but in places the ground is starting to do a very credible impression of concrete and it’s hard on one’s knees be they young, youngish or oldish (especially when I forget to bring the newly purchased kneeling mats).
Nevertheless, we progressed. Finds were found, edges more clearly defined, trench edges straightened, bottoms levelled, spoil sieved, visitors talked to. Alexander made excellent progress in the south east trench, so it is nearly ready to be recorded. A small number of pieces of butchered animal bone were recovered along with the usual assortment of pottery, disarticulated human remains and broken glass.
Over the last two weeks two buttons have been found, doubling what is already a very fine collection. Rob found a tiddler of a button the week before while Olivia recovered another metal button in her sieve. This one has a maker stamped on the reverse, so we’ll have to have a proper look under a magnifying glass. Rob’s is the first button we have found that has had a loop rather than holes for sewing onto garments. Given it’s diminutive size it must have fastened something fairly delicate, perhaps a child’s bonnet or some such?
A bright, sunny, windy and freezing day that only Aisling was dressed for, so we put her in charge.
Douglas was given the task of excavating the flowerpot interior, which he did with considerable care. He found fragments of what may have been thick, rusted wire or pins. We speculated that they may once have supported the flowers we found on Thursday.
Douglas also retrieved a fragment of a coloured glassy material, a pit of pot and broken glass.
Meanwhile Aisling worked with Rob and Charlotte in the “Trench of Bigness”. More bone, a bit of nail and a rather interesting button were amongst the finds they made.
Once Douglas was rested from his flowerpot ordeal, he and Mark plugged away in the “Trench of the Rose”. Douglas excavated a rather nice clay tobacco pipe fragment, complete with a letter “T”, a form we haven’t come across before.
A wee bit chilly, but pleasantly bright, no rain and the ground is actually drying out a bit in the trenches we are excavating in the graveyard. The first of our Easter sessions was a very jolly affair; we were joined by Alexander, The Bell Brothers Two, Douglas, Lee, new member Keziah and special-guest for the afternoon; Alis.
The focus for most of us was very much on bottom edges. Several of the gravestones we have found have not been excavated to their full depth yet, something we aim to put right forthwith. New leader Rob worked with Daniel and Andrew in “the enormous trench with the tiny stone” while Laura, Lee, Keziah and Alis worked in the “pirate” trench.
Meanwhile Alexander and Naomi worked all by themselves, exiled to the south east corner trench, to bottom out the rubble layer that was dumped in the 1920’s.
The drying soil made finds easier to spot and quite a few bone fragments and teeth came up around the gravestones. Meanwhile Alexander and Naomi were finding bricks, pottery fragments and ceramic roses. Douglas was kept busy for much of the time carefully cleaning the more delicate of the finds with toothbrushes and cocktail sticks (just to show how sophisticated we are).
The excitement culminated in Alexander’s discovery of the rim of an upright plant pot at the very base of the rubble, disappearing into the graveyard soil. He, Douglas and Lee excavated it between them, so next time we will excavate the soil within.
Roses, plant pot? Are we coming upon graveside decor or domestic rubbish?
Another day, another load of great big history to share with visitors to Stirling Castle. Once again YAC members and parents came to help their beloved leaders to spread the archaeological word. Kathryn, Lee and Olivia all did sterling work (sorry).
It was a really hectic day; much busier than Saturday. We really could have done with more space and a few more boxes of archaeological goodness for folk to poke about in.
By 16:00 we had been visited by about 300 people, making the total for the two days just a little over 500!
Today people were trying on the chainmail, attempting to lift the replica Bruce sword and excavating and then un-excavating our medieval bones and pottery bits.
Lots of young folk were collecting stickers for their Heritage Hero passports. They had to complete four activities, including an archaeological dig, to be awarded a Heritage Hero certificate. The folk on the Archaeology Scotland stand provided us with stickers to hand out, and we had pretty much run out by the end of the day. It was a great idea and really encouraged families to try out a range of activities.
Some of us have been at Stirling Castle today running a stand at the Great Big History Weekend put on by Historic Environment Scotland (Historic Scotland as was). Katy, Michael, Ronan and Ryan came along to help out today, along with assorted grandparents and parents who helped out too. We had more than 200 visitors over the course of the afternoon!
We had some finds from the graveyard dig along with two boxes of finest top soil in which we buried medieval cattle bones, pottery and coal found at Abbot House in 1992. Loads of children came to have a go at excavating, with our intrepid volunteers quickly burying everything again ready for the next visitors.
We also took along our collection of medieval-style clothes and armour along with the replica of Robert the Bruce’s sword. These proved a massive success, attracting attention and plenty of young folk wanting to try on the wee chainmail.
We’re back again tomorrow from 12:00 to 16:00 along with folk from Archaeology Scotland, HES and other groups with plenty of archaeological activities to try out.
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.
Over the last few months some of the YAC leaders have been running single session, introduction to archaeology courses for Fife Young Carers groups.
FYC does an amazing job, supporting young folk often in very difficult circumstances and running fortnightly meetings with activities and food laid on for groups across the county. Dunfermline YAC leaders provided a meeting activity and even helped to eat the food on occasion!
Last week we used our collection of medieval pottery sherds and animal bones from around Fife to focus on medieval archaeology with junior groups meeting in Glenrothes and Kennoway.
The carers and leaders from each group have been so welcoming and enthusiastic, despite the occasional, initial reservation about dirt and old cow bones and teeth. We have seen some amazing work by the young folk over the months; meticulous trowelling, excellent recording of finds and some really creative use of the dig boxes, as you can see.
The commitment of the young carers has been recognised by Archaeology Scotland, with all the young participants earning much deserved Heritage Hero awards.
So we really just wanted to say thanks so much for having us and we’re looking forward to more hands-on archaeology with Fife Young Carers in the future.
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?
Kathryn and Olivia took the chance to explore the house. They best remember the barrel-vaulted kitchen, with its massive fire-place. It had been rebuilt of stone in the 16th century after the original, wooden kitchen had burnt to the ground. It is kitted out with replica jugs and bowls and other kitchen equipment to give an idea of what it had looked like in the past. Olivia was disappointed not to be able to pick up the knives that had been glued to the chopping boards. Kathryn, on the other hand, was quite glad.
There were people from all over Scotland at the launch who had helped to pilot the awards. Some folk talked about the projects they had run. They included a cool project in Kilmarnock. Seven school children had researched the lives of men from the local railway-works who had fought in World War 1. The research was used in museum displays and even to produce a book.
Mark talked a bit about the Dunfermline Abbey graveyard project and a school project he had helped with at a local primary school. Olivia had participated in both projects. She talked about how she had come to join YAC as a result of getting involved with the school project. Olivia was cheered when we realised that she is probably the first person in the world to get two Heritage Hero awards.
Kathryn and Olivia rounded things off by first cutting and then eating large amounts a celebration cake. Olivia found the fondant covering a little too sweet and thick, but enjoyed the sponge. Kathryn just ate and enjoyed it. Mark, inconsiderately, spent so much time, gassing that Kathryn and Olivia had to drag him off without even trying the cake. What a shame.
However, we had good soup in the castle café, enjoyed the fog and had a look round the gift shop. Olivia bought postcards and soap for her mum while Kathryn bought a fancy, medieval catapult, pencil sharpener so she can ping things at her siblings. It works well. Mark wasn’t allowed to buy anything.