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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
‘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!