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 33

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.

Happy diggers, doing that thing.
Happy diggers, doing that thing.
Bottom edge of gravestone revealed!
Bottom edge of gravestone revealed!

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.

Is this a rose I see?
Is this a rose I see?

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).

This is definitely a rose
This is definitely a rose

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.

"Trowel and Pot Rim" Still Life, 2017
“Trowel and Pot Rim” Still Life, 2017

Roses, plant pot? Are we coming upon graveside decor or domestic rubbish?

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 7

We have been so fortunate with the weather this week. Dry, warm weather with a bit of a breeze dries out the gravestones we have revealed and gives us a chance to get them nice and clean. Only then can we see fully any surviving inscriptions and other carving.

Be that as it may, it gets a bit hot when you are deturfing and backfilling. Dougie and I did a far bit of that this morning while the YAC members got on with the interesting work. Alexander and Naomi uncovered the stone that we found last thing yesterday. I was expecting a mighty stone that had once stood tall in the graveyard, so I had extended the trench accordingly. What was uncovered was actually quite petite.

Alexander and Naomi uncovered a tiny gravestone in an enormous trench
Alexander and Naomi uncovered a tiny gravestone in an enormous trench

The master diggers made excellent progress over the day. Alexander was a bit reluctant to leave, even when I promised not to look at the other side of the stone until he arrives tomorrow.

Alexander and Naomi pretending to work so I can take an action photo
Alexander and Naomi pretending to work so I can take an action photo
Alexander's stone looking blank
Alexander’s stone looking blank

As you can see, the upward face is quite smooth. Tomorrow we will lift it to see if there is any inscription on the other side. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile in the “Trench of Many Stones”, Erin was getting on with tidying up  so that the edges of each stone can be seen clearly. This is painstaking, but not terribly exciting work, but the results make it all worthwhile. Erin didn’t even want to stop for lunch, so the rest of us just watched her, munching our sandwiches. She did have her lunch eventually, after which she got on with carefully clearing the mud off our coat-of-arms stone and starting to reveal some detail that had not been before.

Erin carefully scrapes the compacted mud from one of the prettier stones
Erin carefully scrapes the compacted mud from one of the prettier stones
The pretty stones posing for the camera
The pretty stones posing for the camera
The stone Erin has been working on begins to give up its muddy secrets
The stone Erin has been working on begins to give up its muddy secrets
The decorative elements of this fragment start to become clearer
The decorative elements of this fragment start to become clearer

Meanwhile Dougie was working away in his own private DHCP trench, uncovering a stone that is small, very thick, at a difficult angle and partially obscured by thick roots (until this afternoon). Again there is no inscription on the upward face, but we should be able to flip it eventually to see what lies on the hidden side.

Dougie practising his speed trowelling
Dougie practising his speed trowelling.
Dougie's stone is small, but very thick
Dougie’s stone is small, but very thick



It’s a New Improved Dunfermline YAC! (with added fibre and not many artificial colours)

Dunfermline YAC has finally, finally finished the transition from a club merely affiliated to the global YAC empire, to that of a fully signed up branch. This makes absolutely no difference at all to members, except that we don’t have to close down, so that’s a good thing. Probably.

Last Saturday was our first meeting since January and our numbers were quite literally increased by two, as new members Katie and Lee, joined Andrew, Daniel and Algirdas for a spot of getting unnecessarily covered in air-drying clay.

Ushabti and their box
Ushabti live in boxes

For the first time we spent some time considering the archaeology of death somewhere other than Scotland. Last time we looked at the pottery vessels that Bronze Age Scots liked to bury with their dead (we did, honest) and this time we had a look at some of the things that ancient Egyptians enjoyed entombing with their deceased.

We began with some research into ushabti figurines; little people made of clay or wood, intended to do the work of the dead in the afterlife. These are found in pretty much all Egyptian graves, from those of pharaohs to the lowliest peasant and have survived in their thousands. If you want to see a few you can do worse that have a look a the collections housed by the British Museum in London and the National Museums Scotland. Confusingly the BM call the figures ushabti while the NMS calls them shabti. 

The ancient Egyptians believed that the afterlife was actually pretty much the same as life. The dead still had to eat and sleep and so forth. Therefore some of the dead had to build houses, grow crops and do all the other myriad jobs that had been necessary in life. For most people this just meant business as usual, but if you had been rich in life, the idea that you might be expected to do menial, manual jobs in death did not appeal.

Ushabti Figure
A posh ushabti

Luckily the clever Egyptians developed a solution to the problem. Get yourself some ushabti figures and use magic to make them volunteer to do the work allotted to you in the afterlife. Ushabti figures usually have a spell engraved on them with the name of their dead person and an instruction to do their work. The brilliance of the solution was that anyone could afford it, rich and poor alike. So every Egyptian could look forward to a death of ease in the afterlife, until future generations started pinching their ushabti figures that is.

Lots of ushabti are made of clay, so we all went through some reference books, came up with ushabti designs and had a go at making our own figures.We also tried dung beetles and hippos, both firm favourites with the ancient Egyptians, but more for the living than the dead. Most of us took our raw, still soft ushabti figures home to dry and hopefully to beautify.

Bell brothers at work
Bell brothers at work.
Charlotte waves her hands at Lee, Katy and Morven like the mad person she is.
Charlotte waves her hands at Lee, Katie and Morven like the mad person she is.
Algirdas pointing
Algirdas pointing. At what I do not know.
Everyone experiencing various levels of enjoyment.
Assorted Hippo's. We were getting tired by then
Assorted Hippos. We were getting tired by then.
Three unpainted ushabti figures
Small selection of raw ushabti figures



YAC Graveyard Dig – Days 11 and 12

Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded Trench Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded Trench Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded Trench Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded TrenchI was tired last night and fell asleep before I could get round to writing up Saturday’s YAC activities in the graveyard. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Anyway, I am just back from the Sunday session and will delay no longer.

Saturday was busy. A new member, Andrew joined us for the first time, while Morven, one of our leaders, brought her younger brother, Alasdair along to see how he would enjoy himself. Both made excellent starts to their archaeological careers. Experienced members Erin and Algirdas helped to welcome the boys and get them started.

We focused on finishing revealing our third stone and better defining the edges of the other two stones, now they are further from the cutting edge. As well as the usual nails, glass and pottery, a number of fragments of electrical wiring were discovered. It is interesting that electrical materials were already being disposed of by 1930, perhaps as parts of demolished buildings?

The third gravestoneAs you can see, the third stone is slightly longer than its immediate
neighbour. At first sight there seems to be no inscription or decoration on the stone. We will reserve judgement until it has dried off and been brushed clean. The surface is far from flat, which might be a sign that there is more to be discovered on Carved standing stonethis stone.

Annoyingly our blank, flat stone hides quite a bit of the standing stone abutting it’s western edge. We can see some badly worn carving, but nothing else. Yet.

Finally I will just mention the tremendous amount of interest and encouragement our young archaeologists have received from visitors. We are now used to people staring for a while and then walking up to ask what on earth we are doing. They are always fascinated by the project and impressed at amount the young archaeologists have achieved.

Just this weekend we talked to Visitors to the digmore than 60 people of all ages, from all around the world about the project and what has been discovered so far. In fact, we didn’t get as much work done today as we had hoped. That said, there would be little point to the project if we didn’t share our findings with folk who show an interest, and its always a two-way conversation.


YAC Graveyard Dig – Day 8

We had a late start on Sunday; Erin, Griffin, Dougie and myself enjoying the late summer sunshine and warmth. We didn’t dig, but spent our time planning the largest of the trenches excavated so that it can be (mostly) backfilled during the week.

The destructive treeFirst we finished off a plan that Charlotte and I had worked on during the week, adding in the tree that had been at least partially responsible for wrecking the nearest grave.

Next we thought it would be interesting to draw a profile of the trench to see better the differing heights of the four main gravestones.

Trench 1 gravestonesGriffin and Erin read off horizontal and vertical positions, I plotted them onto paper while Dougie rushed from one end of the dig to the other, explaining to hundreds of interested passers-by what we were up to.

We finished just as our two hours was up, and this is an inked version of what we came up with. The variation in level is perhaps partly the result of different amounts of subsidence across the trench. Gravestones 2 and 3, those with no surviving inscription, do not seem to have been set into the ground in the way Stones 1 and 2 do. Trench 1 profile diagramRather, they give the impression of having been placed onto the ground, presumably over graves that lie beneath.

Young archaeologists in the graveyard

HeadstoneFor the last three years a group of  Dunfermline Heritage Community Projects (DHCP) members have been digging in the Abbey Church graveyard for lost gravestones.

Each season the group chooses a small area to probe carefully for stones lost beneath the grass. Once likely stones have been located, they excavate and uncover stones that haven’t seen the light of day for centuries.

In this way the group learns more about the history of the town and the people who once lived and died in Dunfermline.The YAC Plot

This year DHCP has offered YAC a plot to excavate. Seven stones have already been uncovered this year, along with a host of stray finds that range from animal bone to an antique jam spoon.

So, if you are aged between 8 and 16, and fancy trying your hand at some graveyard archaeology drop us an email at

We will be excavating for two hour stretches between 11:00 13:00 over six days. The dates are:

  • Thursday 6th August
  • Friday 7th August
  • Saturday 8th August
  • Sunday 9th August
  • Monday 10th August
  • Tuesday 11th August

We have places for up to six young people for each session.

If you think you might be interested in joining Dunfermline YAC, even if you can’t make the dig, then just send an email anyway!