Graveyard Dig – Day 27

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?

Almost everyone hard at work, except me
Almost everyone hard at work, except me

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.

A bone is found
A bone is found
Excavating and planning
Excavating and planning
Whilst our intrepid YAC member plans away, a leader engages with the public
Whilst our intrepid YAC member plans away, a leader engages with the public
Breaking ground in the south east corner of the site
Breaking ground (well, rubble) in the south east corner of the site
Speed trowelling
Speed trowelling
Slightly worried planning activity
Slightly worried planning activity
Contemplative excavation
Contemplative excavation

Graveyard Dig – Day 26

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.

Look, it isn't raining and the ground isn't frozen!
Look, it isn’t raining and the ground isn’t frozen!
Exposing the gravestone fragments
Exposing the gravestone fragments
Feeding the midges
Feeding the midges
The team working hard
The team working hard

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.

Facing west the rubble layer is very clear
Facing west the rubble layer is very clear
Two Fragments and a Table Stone
Facing East: Two Fragments and a Table Stone

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.

Graveyard Dig – Day 25

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.

A view of the rubble layer in section
A view of the rubble layer in section

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.

Dougie is planning, as for the others ...
Dougie is planning, as for the others …

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.

YAC members taking a (long) break
YAC members taking a (long) break
One YAC member planning, several others not
One YAC member planning, several others not

Graveyard Dig – Day 24

It didn’t rain at all today. True it was cold and raw, but at least the ground had dried just a little and wasn’t frozen. Nor were there as many leaves to clear from the trenches. Most have fallen now and so won’t be such a nuisance any more. Best of all, it was too cold for the midges to be out nibbling our scalps.

A failure in communications (probably) meant that there were just a few YAC members excavating in the graveyard this afternoon: Erin, Michael, Ronan and Sienna. Sorry about that, and email failed to send.

Buckets pose for a photo during a break
Buckets pose for a photo during a break

Dougie and Pete carried on working in the south trench. The rubble seems to continue to a greater depth in this area. Although the rubble thins to the north, it must have involved quite a bit of work when it was laid down in the 1920’s.

Dougie, later joined by Pete, still hacking away at the rubble in the warmth of the southern trench.
Dougie, later joined by Pete, still hacking away at the rubble in the warmth of the southern trench.
Watching Dougie work. He's an inspiration.
Watching Dougie work. He’s an inspiration.

The rest of us focused on clearing the two stones discovered last time and in so doing we discovered first the edge of a probable table stone at the north end of the trench. It has a nicely bevelled edge and seems to lie flat, so may well be in its original position. As yet no inscription is visible.

The table stone discovered
The table stone discovered

In the last ten minutes or so, peeping out from underneath one of the stones we found last week, we came across a stone decorated with skull and crossed bones. The skull and one of the bones are clearly visible and seem to be in pretty good condition.

Gravestone decorated with skull and bone partially hidden beneath another gravestone
Skull and bone, presumably crossed

Finding one stone on top of another suggests very strongly that they were dumped in 1927 and then covered in rubble.

As you can clearly see, we need to extend our trench north, west and east to reveal the rest of the four stones. We will draw a section of the rubble layer too as it is such an important feature of the site. Our earlier probing was clearly just bouncing off the rubble, leading us to believe that there were gravestones just below the turf. Once again we have seen that we have to excavate to some depth before we hit gravestone!

The Table Stone lies at a less jaunty angle than the others
The Table Stone lies at a less jaunty angle than the others
A clear view of the four stones uncovered
A clearer view of the four stones uncovered

The skull stone and its neighbour lie very close to the low marker just to the east. We speculated as to whether they abut or continue beneath the low marker. Experience so far suggests that they will abut the stone, in which case there isn’t much more of either to reveal.

Four stones in one trench. Note the depth of the rubble layer at the back of the trench
Four stones in one trench. Note the depth of the rubble layer at the back of the trench

Graveyard Dig – Day 23

The afternoon of Sunday 13th November was dreich. YAC members Alexander, Erin, Finlay, Kathryn, Katie, Michal, Lee, Michael and new member Ryan experienced this in full over the two hours they spent excavating in the claggy trenches of the Abbey Graveyard. They enjoyed light drizzle and midges, followed by heavy rain that drove down the temperature and away the midges.

YAC members being nibbled by midges
YAC members being nibbled by midges

Despite the autumnal weather the hardy, mud-plastered YAC-folk achieved a lot. They determined that the easternmost trench contained whole bricks rather than a gravestone, and, most excitingly, that there are at least two gravestones beneath the thick layer of rubble on the western side of the row of low markers that we are working around.

Burying murdered midges in one of the trenches
Burying murdered midges

It was too wet and muddy to make much progress with the new stones, but we could see that they are abutting and lying at a jaunty angle. We can’t yet tell if they are whole or fragments, or if they are associated with the nearby low marker. Hopefully we’ll have some drier weather next time and be able to make sense of them.

Clearing rubble prior to uncovering another gravestone
Clearing rubble prior to uncovering another gravestone
Three YAC members working to excavate a new gravestone
One of two new gravestones partially uncovered

Graveyard Dig – Days 20 to 22 & Archaeology Scotland Hits Town

It seems like a long time ago now, but between the 21st and 23rd of October Dunfermline YAC was incredibly busy: digging in the graveyard, receiving awards and helping out at Archaeology Scotland‘s AGM in Dunfermline.

Graveyard Dig – Day 20

Alexander, Caelan, Erin and Michal joined us for a couple of hours working on the dig today. It was pretty miserable weather and a session that demonstrated well that archaeology isn’t all fun! After a good half an hour of clearing fallen leaves, we finally got down to the exciting task of cleaning rubble for recording, before we dig through it. We also probed on the other, eastern side of the low markers that we are excavating against. There is definitely stone close to the surface, but we are guessing that it is simply more rubble rather than gravestones. We hope that there may be older gravestones below the rubble.

Excavating rubble can be so satisfying
Excavating rubble can be so satisfying
Probing for sunken gravestones
Probing for sunken gravestones

Graveyard Dig – Day 21 & Archaeology Scotland AGM

A long, busy and rather proud day; as most Dunfermline YAC members were presented with their well-earned Heritage Hero awards at the AGM. After a morning indoors of talks, activities and a rather nice lunch, we headed down to the graveyard to do some work and also share the dig with Archaeology Scotland members on a wee tour of Dunfermline.

Presentation being watched by YAC member
Presentation being watched. Any YAC members in the photo do you think?
An award in the act of being transferred
An award in the act of being transferred (photo Alex Wood)
Awards having been received
Awards having been received, not in order of height (photo Alex Wood)

From the perspective of the dig we actually got quite a bit done: planning, opening up a new rubble trench, talking to visitors (including AGM attendees) and getting cold. A good day I think.

Archeology Scotland members watch YAC in captivity
Archeology Scotland members watch YAC in captivity (photo Alex Wood)
Plane table fun in the graveyard
Plane table fun in the graveyard (photo Alex Wood)
Is this a thing which we see before us?
Is this a thing which we see before us? (photo Alex Wood)
There's a worm in my bucket
There’s a worm in my bucket (photo Alex Wood)

Graveyard Dig – Day 22

Back to normal this afternoon. More leaf clearing followed by planning rubble, finding rubble, cleaning rubble, digging rubble and playing with the mud. I think the latter activity was enjoyed the most.

Exposing some gravestone edge
Exposing some gravestone edge
Our puddle
Our puddle
Digging in the cold
Digging in the cold
Planning rubble
Planning rubble

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 19

We had a good turn out today with Alexander, Caelan, Erin and Ronan joined for the first time by Michal, who made an excellent start to his career in archaeology. Alexander very kindly let his dad Alan join in too.

Ours was an excavation in four parts today:

Dougie worked on exposing the edges of the large table stone, latterly with some help from Ronan.

Charlotte and Michal worked in the trench immediately to the north, exposing the edges of the small 18th century marker.

Working on the 18th century marker stone
Working on the 18th century marker stone, honestly

Caelan worked on exposing a curb stone that has been partly covered by tree roots. The soil is very compacted and dry in this area, so the going is quite hard. The large table stone on the ground above the curb is not part of the original grave. A skull fragment, lower jaw and tooth were recovered from this area as part of the infill.

A grave plot with curb stone. Note the layer of burnt material dumped on top.
Grave plot with curb stone. Note the thin layer of burnt material dumped on top.

We had expected at least one new gravestone to be uncovered today in a new trench worked on mostly by Erin, Ronan, Alexander and his dad. Probing the area had led us to believe that there was at least one gravestone just beneath the turf. We were quite wrong. Instead we found an impressive amount of rubble, presumably laid down in 1927 to fill a hole. An edge to the rubble area is emerging, so we started the process of cleaning it up so that it can be photographed and planned.

The joy of cleaning muddy rubble!
The joy of cleaning muddy rubble!
Emphatically not a gravestone
Emphatically not a gravestone
Rubble layer beneath the turf
Rubble layer beneath the turf

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 17 Erin’s take on the day

Erin cleaning one of this years exciting finds
Erin cleaning one of this years exciting finds

Our third member Blog contribution is by Erin. She has been a stalwart member of  the project, along with her dad Dougie, over the last two summers. She shares her reflections on the project and takes a look at just why we come across so many buried gravestones and strange finds.

 

Wow, another amazing day at the graveyard, two new members came along to try out. They were Ronan and Caelan, who seemed to enjoy themselves, fingers crossed they will come back (They did!).

As always we had a lot of interest in what we are doing from people who were visiting the abbey and graveyard. People often ask what we are doing, and why kids are doing it! Others are interested because they see all of the gravestones. I don’t think people understand what is on their doorstep. People are amazed the children can get involved with archaeology and are surprised about the project. They often have lots of questions so here is a little bit of the history as to why we are doing the dig and what we find.

Alexander engaging with the public
Alexander engaging with the public
Erin talking to visitors at the end of the day
Erin talking to visitors at the end of the day

The graveyard has been in use for about 800 years and there are records that show by the mid-1600s that the Kirkyard had become very marshy and swampy and would flood during heavy rain. All of this water resulted in the ground becoming uneven and caused some of the gravestones to sink. Over a number of years drainage works were carried out and this appears to have sorted the problem. Records also show that the Kirk Session had ordered that all headstones had to be laid flat on the ground as they thought it would be easier to carry bodies through the Kirkyard to where they were to be buried. Maybe this was also an indication of how uneven the ground was at this time. This rule of having flat stones continued until 1869.

In 1927 the graveyard superintendent got material to level the Kirkyard from a site in Dunfermline. From our dig it would appear that this material was mostly rubbish with pieces of roof tiles, rubble, glass and broken pottery with pockets of Oyster shells and ash from fires. Maybe in 1927 they were not concerned about preserving history as they just covered over any gravestones that were below the level which they filled too.

Erin spent about 10 hours cleaning this stone
Erin spent about 10 hours cleaning this stone
Old stones used as in-fill
Old stones used as in-fill

Our project is to try and find the gravestones that had been covered so that we can record the stones and have some research done to find out more about the people buried in the graveyard.  As we dig to find the stones we get lots of great finds from all the rubbish that has been used to fill in the graveyard. We find lots of small items such as clay pipe stems, buttons and even a thimble and as we are in a graveyard we also come across lots of bones and teeth! This gives us a chance to look at the diets of the people who died and also look for any diseases or malnutrition as they show in the bones (see Alexander’s post).

Folded metal button
Folded metal button
Horn button
Horn button

We do not just dig! We have to catalogue and bag our finds, photograph the gravestones that we discover and also draw plans of the site so that in the future we know where all the stones are. This is because once we are finished all the soil has to be returned and the stones will be covered once more.

Fragment of decorated glass
Fragment of decorated glass

Archaeology and local history is good fun. Me and everyone else at YAC really enjoy learning about history and of course love digging. I hope the project will go on for a long time into the future as it gets kids out of the house and away from the gadgets. It also means we can contribute to discovering local history and get to share it with everyone.  I really enjoy coming to YAC!

 

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 18

A pleasant, autumnal day with almost everyone moaning about being cold! Dougie didn’t, but then he was moving a spoil heap to make room for a new trench. Rotten photographs this week I’m afraid as I simply forgot to take very many.

Alexander, Erin, Kathryn, Katie, Michael, Olivia, Ronan and Sienna worked away exposing the edges of the large, table stone so that we can record it, and cleaned the small headstone abutting its eastern edge. We briefly thought that Ronan had discovered a new headstone, but it turned out to be a fragment thrown in as fill.

Alexander helped Charlie sorting the human and non-human bones. As you can see below we have identified several animal teeth amongst our finds. It seems likely that at least some of the bone we have recovered is not human either, but is probably too fragmented to identify accurately without expert knowledge.

Assorted animal teeth
Assorted animal teeth. From the left: horse, cattle, unidentified and cattle
Alexander lays out teeth to be photographed
Alexander lays out teeth to be photographed

Naomi helped Erin, helped by Katie and then Sienna, to begin a series of larger plans of individual gravestones to go with our overall plan of the excavation. As you can see, they made a very good start.

Gravestone plans
Gravestone plans

The day ended with toothpicks and brushes on the small headstone to finally reveal the full inscription. Not terribly informative, but possibly enough to identify the family represented. The top line is most likely the initials of husband and wife. The line below may well be an offspring. Sue Mowat is investigating on the premise that the stone is at least roughly where it was originally placed.

Given that we have already found two pairs of stones beside this one and its larger companion, it might even be that W B and I B were parents or grandparents of whoever was commemorated on the blank table stone beside it.

At last, the full inscription
At last, the full inscription

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 17

Has it really been only 17 short sessions in the Abbey Graveyard? It feels a little more somehow.

Two new members came along today: Ronan, who it turns out is friends with Michael, and Caelan, whose name no one could guess, even with clues! I wonder if they will come back? We were also joined by Alexander, Erin, Kathryn, Lee, Olivia and Sienna, who very kindly let her dad Pete join in. They’ll all come back!

Members worked on a variety of exciting tasks, such as sorting the mass of bulk finds from last weeks session with Edinburgh YAC. The finds trays were full and everything needed sorting and bagging up. I remember Erin and Kathryn mentioning that there might have been one or two stones amongst the legitimate finds. Kathryn loves finding small stones very much.

Kathryn and Erin sorting our bulk finds
Kathryn and Erin sorting our bulk finds

Alexander, Caelan and Olivia spent a vast amount of time and effort revealing a rather smart curb stone that once inclosed a grave plot. The ground was very dry and compacted, so excavating was hard going. I’m sure they all have assorted rippling muscles by now.

Alexander, Olivia and Caelan working on uncovering a curb stone
Alexander, Olivia and Caelan working on uncovering a curb stone

We also finally got round to excavating the wee, probably, 18th century stone that lies at the eastern end of our blank table stone. Plenty of glass, tobacco pipe bits, teeth and bone fragments came out of the ground.

This was definitely the mad trench (with the honorable exception of Sienna and her dad. Charlotte wasn’t especially mad either), as you can see.

A slightly deranged Ronan being worshipped by Lee and Michael
A slightly deranged Ronan being worshipped by Lee and Michael

Although the photo below shows the complete surface of little stone, the inscription has disappeared beneath a thin sheen of mud that has accumulated in the days since it was first discovered. It will be brought back to light next week, so don’t miss the next thrilling episode …

Big stone and little stone at the end of the day
Big stone and little stone at the end of the day