Graveyard Dig Day 38

YAC members hard at work, trowels in hand
YAC members hard at work, trowels in hand

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.

The bell that Campbell found
The silver ball that Campbell found

Bones

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.

 

Bones cleaned and bones fragmented
Bones cleaned and bones fragmented

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.

Human bone, dumped between gravestones
Human bone, dumped between gravestones

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.

Section sketch drawn by Aisling
Section sketch drawn by Aisling

Graveyard Dig Day 36

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.

Almost everyone, but not quite
Almost everyone, but not quite

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.

In search of bricks and bone
In search of bricks and bone

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.

Finds tray with finds
Finds tray with finds

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.

Are they working, or just pretending to because I wanted a nice photo for the blog?
Are they working, or just pretending to because I wanted a nice photo for the blog?
These people are definitely working, they hadn't even noticed me.
These people are definitely working, they hadn’t even noticed me.
The sieving must go on!
The sieving must go on!
The anonymity of the dig
The anonymity of the dig

Graveyard Dig – Day 29

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.

Some Finds

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.

The Shell

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?

Large Shell
Large Shell

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.

Animal Tooth
Animal Tooth

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?

Fragment of Human Bone
Fragment of Human Bone

Rusted Metal

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.

Rusted Iron Object
Rusted Iron Object

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?

Fragment of human bone 1
Fragment of human bone 1
Fragment of human bone 2
Fragment of human bone 2

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?

Broken Glass
Broken Fragment

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?

Ceramic Sherd
Ceramic Sherd

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?

View of human tooth showing decay
Human Tooth 1
Front of worn human tooth
Human Tooth 2

More Ceramic

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?

Ceramic sherd with human hand
Ceramic Sherd

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 16 and a half

I sneaked back to the graveyard to finish uncovering the gravestone that we thought we were excavating with Edinburgh YAC last Saturday.

I suppose it is possible that bits of what I found might once have been bits of gravestones, but if they were, it was a long time ago and they are now well on the way to reverting back to being sand.

The probe had actually detected a .5m wide band of compacted rubble with human bone inclusions, that felt just like a gravestone, but, as you can see from the photograph, most definitely is not.

So, what was this band of stone filling? How extensive is it? Was it deposited in 1927 along with most of the rubbish we have found on site, or is it part of an earlier feature? There was no ask or burnt coal, glass or pottery, which we had found plenty of in the context above.

So, not a gravestone, but definitely something of a mystery.

If only we were allowed to excavate more deeply!

Look, its not a gravestone, its compacted rubble and human bone
Look, its not a gravestone at all, its actually compacted rubble and human bone

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 15

Our collective sympathy goes out to Charlie, who never made it to the graveyard today. Instead, she drove over a nail on the A92 and destroyed a tyre.

We enjoyed a beautiful late-summer afternoon, in the dappled shade of the graveyard on Sunday. Visitors came thick and fast, with Dougie doing his public relations thing for us, while Alexander, Erin, Kathryn, Katie, Lee, new member Michael and Olivia got on with the hard work. That’s not fair of me; Dougie and Erin spent their time excavating around a low marker and curb buried in dry, compacted soil just by the tree. No inscription as yet, but we remain hopeful.

The team at work, as photographed by Katie, taking a break from recording bones
The team at work, as photographed by Katie, taking a break from recording bones

Members took turns working with Naomi to photograph some of the bones and teeth that we have excavated. These will be sent to an archaeologist bone expert, while Andrew and Daniel’s mum (a dentist) will take a look at the photos of the teeth. Hopefully we will be able to learn a little about the lives of the folk whose scattered remains these fragments represent.

Some of the teeth found over the course of the excavation
Some of the teeth found over the course of the excavation

Most of us spent the afternoon digging to extend the trench containing the large, flat, empty table stone that we still hadn’t quite managed to expose entirely. Katy, our probing expert, thought she detected another gravestone just to the east of the table stone and in the final minutes of the session was proved right.

The stone was once a low, upright memorial, you can see the rough part of the stone that was intended to be beneath the ground at the front of the photograph. Excitingly, there are initials visible already: W. B. and P. B. The style of the stone suggests an 18th century or very early 19th century date. W.B. was most likely the husband and P.B. the wife. Sue Mowat tells us that girls names beginning with the letter ‘P’ were very unusual at the time, though there were a few Phoebes about. Let’s hope that there is a date on the hidden part of the stone.

The reward for an afternoon of hard work
The reward for an afternoon of hard work

 

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.

Alexander.