Graveyard Dig Days 31 and 32

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.

Getting started in the test trench
Getting started in the test trench
Excavating gravestones
Excavating around gravestones
Examining a curious find
Examining a curious find

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.

Sieving spoil
Sieving spoil
Sieving spoil
Sieving spoil

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.

Molar of a pig
Molar of 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.

Tooth with ridges indicating arrested growth caused by illness
Adult Incisor with ridges

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.

Human deciduous teeth
Human deciduous teeth

 

 

 

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

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 15

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.

The team at work, as photographed by Katie, taking a break from recording bones
The team at work, as photographed by Katie, taking a break from recording bones

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.

Some of the teeth found over the course of the excavation
Some of the teeth found over the course of the excavation

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.

The reward for an afternoon of hard work
The reward for an afternoon of hard work

 

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Bones and Teeth

Alexander cleans a tooth with a toothpick in order to view wear patterns
Alexander cleans a tooth with a toothpick in order to view wear patterns

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.

Worn surface of molar
Worn surface of molar

Molar found on site

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.

Child's rib
Child’s rib

Child's rib

 

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.

Alexander.