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.
Bit busy today. As well as Alexander, Erin, Kathryn, Katie, Lee and Olivia we were joined by Katy Firth and about 3,000 members of Edinburgh YAC. Despite the cramped conditions everything went well and we had an amazing time, I hope!
We split members into four groups, based on blood group; just in case of nasty accidents. We had four activities on site, pivoting around the patient figure of Sue Mowat as she worked on a low-marker with curb, more-or-less in the middle of the site.
Andrew from Edinburgh YAC : “Highlight for me was finding fragments of bone which was really exciting. I also liked helping make a plan of where the gravestones were found”
Naomi was in charge of bones. She gave each group an introduction to the skeletal fragments we have found over the season, ably assisted by Archaeology Scotland’s Jeffery, the plastic skeleton.
Mark looked after excavating and sieving of a spoil heap, which turned up some very nice finds. Groups took turn excavating an area that Katie and Charlotte had previously probed and been pretty certain that there is a gravestone. If it is there, it proved to be deeper than we were able to excavate.
Dougie introduced each group to planning with the plane table and alidade. This can be a rather “dry” activity shall we say, but Dougie has a knack for making it both interesting and comprehensible. The net result was that far from just showing folk what to do, three gravestones were entered into the site plan. An excellent result!
Our last, but far from least, activity was managed by Dunfermline’s most heavily pregnant leader, Morven. Members visited the Abbey nave to take a look at the mass of medieval mason’s marks on view. It was a great contrast to the other activities for the day and gave everyone a chance to experience the amazing space of the nave and to think about the men who built it through the marks they inscribed into it.
So often we like to pigeon-hole the human actions we study into different spheres: this thing belongs to economic activity, while this is categorised under ritual and belief. The humble mason’s mark reminds us that life is rarely so cleanly divided. They had a very practical function: marks that helped managers to check the work done and ensure the workforce was paid correctly. But there is also a sense in which these tiny marks, originally hidden away under elaborate decoration, represented an intimate and eternal connection between the mason and the a holy place they helped to create.
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.
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.
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.
I’d like to introduce the second contribution to the Blog by one of the members. Kathryn, a quiet, thoughtful soul, muses on her experience of the summer dig and the most extravagantly decorated monument we have uncovered (so far). Kathryn has spent many happy hours re-cleaning and staring at the stone, so she knows it pretty well by now.
This summer Dunfermline YAC has been digging in the Dunfermline Abbey graveyard since the 3rd of July. Working at the graveyard has been a very interesting experience for me, even though patience occasionally runs thin, there’s never a boring moment with all the strange talks that sometimes take place. So far this year we have uncovered 10 gravestones, several bones, some bits of pottery and lots of rocks – annoyingly 🙂
One of the most interesting stones that we found was probably the stone covered with drawings and no words, although there is a chunk missing from the middle of the stone. The remains of what we think was once writing is worn and unfortunately half of it has gone with the chunk.
The markings on the stone caused a lot of interest and discussion – both at home and in the YAC. We can see:
A horizontal pattern that we’ve nick named ‘Dog’s Teeth’?
A tool for cutting leather
Different sizes of ‘shoe lasts’ which are used to shape shoes
The remains of writing which could possibly include a ‘Z’
We are guessing that this stone is from around about the 17th – 18th century because at this time very few people could read, and so gravestones were decorated with the information in symbols instead.
This gravestone is most likely for a cobbler, shoemaker or ‘cordwainer’. I think the flowers are something to do with the Patron Saint of Shoemaking – St Crispin – as flowers similar to this can be found in many pictures representing him. These include vases, carvings and pictures.
At first we had a theory that it might be Andrew Carnegie’s grandfather ‘Tom -schoenmaker- Morrison’, but discovered that not only did he die too late for the gravestone’s time but found that he died in Bradford, England.
A really quiet day on site today; with just Alexander able to turn up. We spent some time cleaning up the edge of the trench with the large table stone in and talking with visitors, Alexander once again being roped into engaging with members of the public.
The last hour we spent on drawing a section of one of the trench edges with Alexander being the artist for most of the drawing. You can see the what we drew in the photo below; the double-low-marker and the side of the trench beneath it.
Sue Mowat has been researched the history of the plot and its occupants. A list made in 1819 states that this plot was assigned to the heirs of the Beveridge family. The stone we excavated commemorates William Hoggan, a Dunfermline mason who married Margaret Beveridge in around 1790. William died in 1836 and so the stone must have been erected to his memory some time after. The headstone was well made and the engraving finely done. Unfortunately the stone has laminated badly, layers flaking away over time and taking much of the inscription with them, as you can see on the 3D model below.
Other stones in the graveyard had new inscriptions added at the bottom as children and grandchildren followed older generations into the grave. Here however, the damage to the first William’s gravestone made it impossible to do so here. Laying it carefully, face up into the ground may well have prevented the fragmented inscription from disappearing completely.
The low-marker still standing appears to commemorates William’s grandson, another William. This William and his family appear in the 1861 census records for Dunfermline, so we know a little bit about his circumstances in the last years of his life. The census record tells us that the Hoggan family lived in Reform Street, which was situated at the end of Pilmuir Street, now mostly beneath roundabout and road.
We learn that William, aged 31, was a handloom weaver, like so many others in Dunfermline at the time. He lived with his wife Christina and five children aged from 11 years to 7 months old. We don’t know how big their home was, but the 1861 census did record the number of rooms in a home with one or more window. The Hoggan’s had only one room with a window.
William died just a few years later in 1865 at the age of 37 of tuberculosis, a disease that was one of the biggest killers in industrial Britain. Sue discovered that William’s sons mentioned on the gravestone, William, Robert and James, also all died of tuberculosis in their late teens, perhaps a result of being brought up in cramped conditions with a parent also suffering from the disease.
Interestingly, Sue discovered that William’s gravestone was not erected until around 1890, probably by his surviving sons. Our excavation suggests that the stone to William’s grandfather was simply moved out and laid in the ground within the plot to make room for the new stone.
The photo of the trench was taken over a week ago and you can see from the section that it didn’t look exactly the same any more. However, in both the photograph and the section drawing you can see what may be the cut for the original gravestone underneath the low marker. This was filled, presumably around 1890, with a layer of ash, containing burnt coal and small pieces of slag, and graveyard soil. The regular edge of the ash layer on the north side and at the bottom of the trench are very suggestive of a hole being dug into the ground to accommodate the earlier gravestone.
So we have two William Hoggan’s, grandfather and grandson, resting in a plot inherited from the Beveridge family that the older William had married into. We can see how a single burial plot could be reused across the generations and room made for a new memorial.
Far from being unlucky, our 13th day working in the Abbey graveyard was amazing. Sue Mowat and Alan Calder from DHCP came along to see how we were doing, while Kate Fowler, who runs the Heritage Hero programme for Archaeology Scotland visited to see what our members get up to. Her feeling was that all the members who have participated in the dig this year will be inline for an award, so there’ll be more news on that front at a later date.
We had a steady stream of visitors all day. Dougie seemed to be a permanent fixture at the fence, answering questions. He was told by one gentleman what it mean’t to see young folk doing such an amazing job for the rest of the community and how much he appreciated their hard work. Visitors are constantly amazed at how much the young folk have achieved in the graveyard and are so pleased to see them working alongside DHCP.
As well as all the visitors, we had a record number of YAC members on site today. Alexander, Algirdas, Andrew, Daniel, Erin, Kathryn, Katie and Olivia were all busy working away, excavating a test trench, finishing the job of uncovering the table stone we found previously, studying the human remains recovered, dealing with finds and talking to the public. With so many on site we got a huge amount of work done and made some rather cool finds. Well done everyone!
Jean of DHCP had found yet another gravestone last week, so Dougie and Kieron began the fun job of deturfing and excavating to uncover it. So far there is no inscription visible, but we remain hopeful.