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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the schools starting again next week we are cutting back to Sunday afternoon visits to the graveyard. We had a good turnout today with Alexander, Andrew, Daniel and Katy coming along. We were also joined for the first time by our new leader, Charlie.
We opened up a new test trench in the south east corner of the excavation site, with Alexander, Daniel and Andrew doing the lion’s share of the work. So far nothing much has come to light and no new gravestones. I suspect we will be backfilling next week, but you never know.
Andrew and Charlotte worked to level the trench immediately to the west, clearing the table stone we found last time. There doesn’t look to be any surviving inscription on what is quite a sizeable monument.
Given the amount of grave reuse and the landscaping of the 1920s, we have inevitably come across fragmented skeletal material mixed in the earth as we excavate. The larger fragments are set aside to be properly reinterred at the end of the season, hopefully showing more respect than was the case in the past. Whilst these remains are temporarily stored on the surface, we have a brief opportunity to study them and learn what we can of the stories they might tell. We took advantage of Charlie’s knowledge of human physiology, gained through academic research and subsequent work, to begin this work. She and Katy spent much of the afternoon sorting and categorising fragments of human remains and making sure they are stored properly.
I have mentioned before that a lot of passers-by stop and ask us about the work we are doing in the graveyard and today was no exception. Charlotte decided that this was the day when YAC members would shoulder some of the responsibility for public engagement, and so it was that Alexander and Daniel had their first shot. They did a good job too.
Dunfermline YAC had a busy weekend: two gravestones were discovered, more finds recovered, stones cleaned up, all accompanied by plenty of banter. Over the two days Alexander, Andrew, Daniel, Kathryn, Katy and Mhairi all made contributions to the success of the weekend.
Saturday started quietly enough as we worked to level the large trench in which we had already found two stones. We didn’t turn much up, little realising that a large recumbent stone was just a few cm below our trowels.
Then Andrew and Daniel arrived and started working in a small test pit one row to the east of the main effort. The trench had been explored a few days earlier without success and I fully expected to be backfilling it after half an hour. However the newcomers quickly realised that there was a headstone in the trench and, with Alexander’s help, we were soon looking at the base of a headstone. Whether the stone lies where it had originally fallen, or was used as fill in 1927 we don’t yet know.
On Sunday Katy, Kathryn and Mhairi took turns to help reveal the top edge of the headstone and to clean up around the sides; a long and sometimes tedious job, but well worth the effort.
So much for Saturday. On Sunday focus moved back to levelling the trench immediately to the west. This time the members came quickly onto the gravestone missed the day before. We soon realised that the trench would need to be enlarged to uncover the stone and so much of the rest of the day was spent extending to the south and east.
Apart from also working on Saturday’s find, Katy had a go at sieving for missed finds in one of the spoil heaps, Alexander and Mhairi helped out in the DHCP trench and everyone spent time cleaning up inscriptions with brushes and toothpicks. It was a long day and the blustery conditions made life difficult, especially when trowelling or shovelling into the wind, but we had fun and the results speak for themselves.
We were joined by two YAC members today: Kathryn and Lee, and I have to say that they got a lot of work done between them. There were lots of visitors today, wanting to know what we were up to in the graveyard, so Kathryn and Lee were left to do most of the work. Which is as it should be.
Last time we discovered a small headstone with inscription, the top of which disappeared into the west side of the trench. So, first job today was to extend the trench enough to reveal the rest of the stone. Almost immediately we noticed another stone coming out of the new edge of the trench, which had to be extended once more. Just as well we all love deturfing so much!
We spent pretty much the whole day uncovering the new stone, which judging by style and well preserved inscriptions, is definitely 19th century. As usual, we found lots of broken glass and some rather nice , though smashed, china. Below you can see the results of our labours. Already the inscriptions are becoming legible and we shall clean them properly next time.
A busy day, with more YAC members joining the muddy fun. To be fair, dust was more of a problem this time as Erin, Katy, Alexander and Kathryn all got on with cleaning our prettiest gravestones with toothbrushes and toothpicks. I’m sure Erin was muttering something about having been cleaning for ten hours now.
It has to be said though, the stones are probably looking their best for the best part of a century, if not longer. We now think that the date 1712 sits above the coat-of-arms, which itself seems to contain a mason’s set square.
The wee stone that Alexander and Naomi worked so hard on yesterday turned out to be a blank. Alexander and Olivia cleaned up the face of the stone, but, as you can see, there is no sign of surviving inscription. We flipped the stone over, but the reverse side proved to be quite rough and devoid of any carving.
Olivia, Katy, Dougie and myself worked on a new, long trench just south of the wee stone. We all found a lot of burnt material that included coal, charcoal, ash and what looked like bits of slag. We found several distinct patches of burnt material where it had been dumped.
Even more exciting, Olivia and Dougie had a go with the probe and located a new gravestone, which Alexander and Olivia made short work of uncovering. As you can see it is a fairly small stone, but with names inscribed on it. The top name is still slightly hidden, so the next job will be to extend the trench slightly to the west.
We think the bottom name is Allison Williamson, but can’t yet make out the name above very clearly. Let’s hope for a date too.
A lovely warm day to spend in a graveyard, beneath the shady trees, grubbing for gravestones around their roots. No wonder there were so many of us on site today. Members Alexander, Kathryn, Finlay, Erin and her big brother Kieron were all working on site today.
Most of the team focused on clearing the earth around the stones we had already discovered. Kathryn and Finlay uncovered the rest of the fragment of stone that lies below the shoemaker’s stone and discovered that it has the same flower decorations near the unbroken edge.
So were they part of the same stone? We originally thought that they were, but then the difference in the shape of the breaks on each piece made us wonder if they were just two broken gravestones. Finding the same decoration on each makes it more likely that they were once part of the same large stone.
If they are parts on a single monument, then it must have always lain flat on the ground, otherwise some of the flowers would have been buried in the earth. Tomorrow we will be able to clean the fragment we uncovered today and discover if anything else has been inscribed on it. A name or two would be an exciting discovery, but we shall have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, Alexander and Kieron were excavating another 1 m x 1 m test trench to the west. Alexander used the probe first to see if there were any signs of gravestones lower down. The probe was inconclusive, so they excavated anyway.
The first 10 cm or so was soil with some pottery and stone inclusions. Below that they started to hit areas of burnt material, probably from coal fires in peoples’ homes, and rubble. After Alexander had gone home, Kieron and I were just tidying up the sides of the trench when we suddenly found this, disappearing into the west side of the trench. So, another stone for tomorrow. It makes me wonder if we have just missed any other stones beyond the trench edges.
Meanwhile Erin’s dad, Dougie, was digging a new trench for DHCP (Dunfermline Heritage Community Projects) and apart from some nice pieces of glass and pottery, he too found the end of another gravestone.
If you think the root is impressive, have a look at the photo below of another DHCP trench on the site. Once again we can see how discarded fragments of stones have been used as infill. Notice the curb running along the left side of the trench. It might related to the large flat stone at the bottom of the trench, but until more has been excavated it isn’t possible to be sure.
We got back to work on Friday 22nd July after a two week break. Well Dougie and Erin had worked on exposing more of the gravestone that we had just uncovered a corner of, more of which below.
On Friday Alexander, Kathryn and Lee turned up for a jolly time in the mud. The morning wasn’t too bad: the rain was light and we were sheltered by our tree, despite the fact that we keep hacking away (carefully and no more than necessary) at it’s roots. We uncovered more of the stone that Dougie and Erin had worked on and even found another next to it that has a very worn coat-of-arms.
The afternoon was pretty grim. The rain came down hard and dripped onto us through the branches. Small puddles started to form in the bottom of the trench. We got very, very muddy. Alexander was worried that he wouldn’t be allowed on the bus home (he was), Kathryn’s hair straggled and Lee was just very happy.
Kathryn probed the bottom of the test pits that had so far revealed no gravestones, and found not a sausage (or gravestone). Lee sifted through the spoil heap for finds that we had missed (he found some nice decorated glass and clay pipe fragments) and the lost city of Atlantis. Alexander worked on uncovering more of the new stone.
This was Lee’s first go at excavating and he did really well. He quickly developed a good trowelling technique and has a sharp eye for small finds.
Saturday was an altogether kinder day to us, dry and pleasantly warm. Yesterday’s puddles had dried, the muddy stones could be cleaned up. Three YAC members came along to dig: the stalwarts Alexander and Kathryn (though she sneaked off early) and Olivia.
We got on with uncovering and cleaning gravestones, tidying up the trench sides, probing for more stones and finding teeth (Olivia found very nearly a whole mouthful). We also mad a start on backfilling the barren test pits to the south of the trench with all the gravestones.
We had a good number of visitors to the site. We often get asked what we are doing. Are we robbing or repairing graves? People tend to be amazed that so many gravestones lie hidden; pleased that we are finding them again; heartened that young folk are involved in such an exciting project and disappointed that we have to cover all the stones again at the end of the dig.
For the second day in a row a YAC member had their first go at excavating, this time Olivia. She made an excellent start and was quick to realise that almost every single thing we find is in fact a rubbishy bit of sandstone.
Anyway, the photos below give a view of what we have found so far this season. We think that all of the stones were dumped when the ground was levelled in the 1920’s. None seem to be in their original position.
Notice the gravestone at bottom left. This has a worn coat-of-arms on it. It got very muddy on Friday and will need a good cleaning to reveal the inscription properly. We need to uncover the base of the stone first.
Robert Anderson’s stone is just about legible still, though some of the lighter strokes of letters are worn away. We have found no trace of any more inscription further down the stone. Sue Mowat suspects that the stone was originally sited several metres from its current position.
This is the broken stone cleaned up by Dougie and Erin, muddied by Alexander, Kathryn and Lee and then cleaned again by Alexander. The crescent-shaped tool with a block-handle underneath is a tool used by shoemakers to cut leather and is found quite commonly on 17th and 18th century gravestones (see the previous post on our visit to Culross. The flowers at the top of the stone and other symbols are rather more unusual. Hopefully the stone will have a chance to dry off properly so that we can give it a good clean.
The fragment of stone below the shoemaker’s stone is still partly under the turf. We will finish uncovering it and then have a look for inscriptions during the next session in the graveyard.