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 37, cleaning finds again

This was the first ever YAC meeting to take place in the dry, out of the rain, in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. We were given a lovely warm welcome by the volunteers on duty and some of us even learned the mysteries of the hot drinks machine. We had a fine turnout: Aisling, Alexander, Andrew, Daniel, Douglas, Katie, Keziah, Kathryn, Lee, Olivia, Ryan and Sienna all working hard.

We focused on sorting and cleaning some of the finds made on site in recent weeks. Leader Laura took charge of the bone table, while Charlotte managed the everything else table.

After a great sorting, the water went into the wash basins and out came the  toothbrushes for the washing.

Cleaning shells and bits of broken stuff
Cleaning shells and bits of broken stuff
YAC members fight over what to clean next
YAC members fight over what to clean next
The bone cleaners doing what they do best
The bone cleaners doing what they do best
Just after one of the bones cleaners mysteriously melted
A moment later one of the bones cleaners mysteriously melted, but the survivors were too professional to run away in terror.
Certain YAC members move too quickly for the human eye to quite perceive
Certain YAC members blur more easily than others
Graveyard relic or YAC member, will we ever really know?
Graveyard relic or YAC member, will we ever really know?
Here we see many YAC members hard at work, watch by about 2/3rds of a leader
Here we see many YAC members hard at work, watch by about 2/3rds of a leader

Graveyard Dig – Day 30

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.

Busy washing finds
Busy washing finds
Find cleaning in progress. Toothpicks ready, just in case
Find cleaning in progress. Toothpicks ready, just in case

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.

Small, ornamental, ceramic dog found during graveyard dig
Our doggie find
Naomi explains
Naomi explains. I wonder what?
Old toothbrushes are great for cleaning ceramics
Old toothbrushes are great for cleaning ceramics

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.

More finds drying
More finds drying
Clean finds drying
Clean finds drying

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

What we found in the graveyard

This is the first of a couple of posts that will focus on the small finds we have made in the graveyard over the last couple of weeks.

The human element

First, I should say that we have come across a few fragments of human bone. These are always treated with respect and returned to the ground immediately. Probably the most moving find was the rib of a small child that had clearly suffered from rickets, and therefore malnutrition during its short life. Apparently such stray finds, probably from the 19th or early 20th centuries are not uncommon.

Mostly rubbish

Most finds come from the layer of early 20th century rubbish that was spread over the parts of the graveyard in 1930 to level the ground and prevent flooding. A fair number of well rusted iron and other metallic objects have turned up.Handmade nails We are starting to gather quite a collection of substantial nails such as these. During the 19th century it became common for nails to be cut from sheets of iron (hence “cut nails”). However, the nail heads were often made to look exactly the same as earlier, hand wrought nails. By the early 20th century many nails were made from wire, as they are today and so look much like modern nails. These are clearly not wire nails, so they were most likely used in older buildings, perhaps demolished in the early 20th century.

graves-6Easier to date is the broken bowl of a tobacco pipe found above the last and most southerly gravestone found. On one side we have the remains of an inscription:

CORONATION
1902
???

Clay Pipe DetailThe coronation was that of Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, and sure enough there is a rather worn and unflattering portrait of him on the other side of the bowl.

We have also found a few fragments of what is probably the stems of old clay pipes. Pipes were prone to breaking and by the turn of the century were losing out in popularity to cigarettes.

Another finds focused post will follow later in the week (if I find the time).