Graveyard Dig Day 36

Another busy couple of hours in the graveyard. Disappointingly, no more buttons were found, but we bore up well in the circumstances. We had another good turn out: Aisling, Alexander, Archie, Katie, Katheryn, Lee, Michal, Olivia and Ryan all doing their bit for Scottish archaeology.

Almost everyone, but not quite
Almost everyone, but not quite

Lee and leader Dougie got tantalisingly close to completing work on the south east frontier. Today yet more fragments of porcelain petal came out, along with a brick and what seems to be a broken ear ring, among other things.

In search of bricks and bone
In search of bricks and bone

The hard, dry ground kept progress fairly slow elsewhere on site. Slowly but surely we are levelling out trenches to the bases of the gravestones we have worked so hard to reveal. There was painstaking excavation of human and animal bone, all of it probably dumped unceremoniously between gravestones during levelling work in 1927. We have started to use wooden ice lolly sticks when working on bone so as not to damage them with our metal trowels.

Finds tray with finds
Finds tray with finds

Sieving buckets of spoil continues to pay dividends. Ryan was lucky enough to discover two fragmented marbles, our first finds of toys on the site.

Are they working, or just pretending to because I wanted a nice photo for the blog?
Are they working, or just pretending to because I wanted a nice photo for the blog?
These people are definitely working, they hadn't even noticed me.
These people are definitely working, they hadn’t even noticed me.
The sieving must go on!
The sieving must go on!
The anonymity of the dig
The anonymity of the dig

Graveyard Dig Day 35

A whole week late, here is a brief report of work on the graveyard dig on April 22nd. I can only apologise to members and leaders alike for my tardiness and assure them that it will almost definitely happen again.

We had a very good turnout today with Aisling, Alexander, Andrew, Archie, Daniel, Douglas, Ella, Katie, Kathryn, Keziah, Michal and Olivia all on site. Once again it was dry, which is all very well, but in places the ground is starting to do a very credible impression of concrete and it’s hard on one’s knees be they young, youngish or oldish (especially when I forget to bring the newly purchased kneeling mats).

Nevertheless, we progressed. Finds were found, edges more clearly defined, trench edges straightened, bottoms levelled, spoil sieved, visitors talked to. Alexander made excellent progress in the south east trench, so it is nearly ready to be recorded. A small number of pieces of butchered animal bone were recovered along with the usual assortment of pottery, disarticulated human remains  and broken glass.

Busy YAC folk at work
Busy YAC folk at work
The sievers sieved
The sievers sieved
The excavators did that ...
The excavators did that …
... in more than one trench at a time!
… in more than one trench at a time!

Button Bonanza

Over the last two weeks two buttons have been found, doubling what is already a very fine collection. Rob found a tiddler of a button the week before while Olivia recovered another metal button in her sieve. This one has a maker stamped on the reverse, so we’ll have to have a proper look under a magnifying glass. Rob’s is the first button we have found that has had a loop rather than holes for sewing onto garments. Given it’s diminutive size it must have fastened something fairly delicate, perhaps a child’s bonnet or some such?

Rob's button, back
Rob’s button, back
Rob's button, front
Rob’s button, front
Olivia's button, back
Olivia’s button, back
Olivia's button, front
Olivia’s button, front

A Home Fit for YAC

Dunfermline YAC has just accepted the amazing offer of the use of the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum for indoor meetings, for free!

Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum
Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum

We finally have a proper home that has a roof, isn’t full of gravestones and doesn’t attract squirrels on the lookout for somewhere to bury their nuts.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! as Lewis Carroll would definitely have said.

Graveyard Dig Day 34

A bright, sunny, windy and freezing day that only Aisling was dressed for, so we put her in charge.

Douglas was given the task of excavating the flowerpot interior, which he did with considerable care. He found fragments of what may have been thick, rusted wire or pins. We speculated that they may once have supported the flowers we found on Thursday.

Rusty wire? Found in the flower pot
Rusty wire? Found in the flowerpot
The rose what we found on Thursday
The rose what we found on Thursday

Douglas also retrieved a fragment of a coloured glassy material, a pit of pot and broken glass.

Pretty glass from the flower pot
Pretty glass from the flowerpot
The flower pot is empty
The flower pot is empty

Meanwhile Aisling worked with Rob and Charlotte in the “Trench of Bigness”. More bone, a bit of nail and a rather interesting button were amongst the finds they made.

Rob thinks about making a grab for the ear muffs
Rob thinks about making a grab for the ear muffs
Laser beams fired from the Abbey just missing Charlotte
Laser beams fired from the Abbey just miss Charlotte

Once Douglas was rested from his flowerpot ordeal, he and Mark plugged away in the “Trench of the Rose”. Douglas excavated a rather nice clay tobacco pipe fragment, complete with a letter “T”, a form we haven’t come across before.

Douglas, master of the toothpick, cleans the pipe fragment
Douglas, master of the toothpick, cleans the pipe fragment

All-in-all a very satisfying two hours.

Graveyard Dig Day 33

A wee bit chilly, but pleasantly bright, no rain and the ground is actually drying out a bit in the trenches we are excavating in the graveyard. The first of our Easter sessions was a very jolly affair; we were joined by Alexander, The Bell Brothers Two, Douglas, Lee, new member Keziah and special-guest for the afternoon; Alis.

Happy diggers, doing that thing.
Happy diggers, doing that thing.
Bottom edge of gravestone revealed!
Bottom edge of gravestone revealed!

The focus for most of us was very much on bottom edges. Several of the gravestones we have found have not been excavated to their full depth yet, something we aim to put right forthwith. New leader Rob worked with Daniel and Andrew in “the enormous trench with the tiny stone” while Laura, Lee, Keziah and Alis worked in the “pirate” trench.

Meanwhile Alexander and Naomi worked all by themselves, exiled to the south east corner trench, to bottom out the rubble layer that was dumped in the 1920’s.

Is this a rose I see?
Is this a rose I see?

The drying soil made finds easier to spot and quite a few bone fragments and teeth came up around the gravestones. Meanwhile Alexander and Naomi were finding bricks, pottery fragments and ceramic roses. Douglas was kept busy for much of the time carefully cleaning the more delicate of the finds with toothbrushes and cocktail sticks (just to show how sophisticated we are).

This is definitely a rose
This is definitely a rose

The excitement culminated in Alexander’s discovery of the rim of an upright plant pot at the very base of the rubble, disappearing into the graveyard soil. He, Douglas and Lee excavated it between them, so next time we will excavate the soil within.

"Trowel and Pot Rim" Still Life, 2017
“Trowel and Pot Rim” Still Life, 2017

Roses, plant pot? Are we coming upon graveside decor or domestic rubbish?

The Great Big History Weekend – Sunday 2nd April

Another day, another load of great big history to share with visitors to Stirling Castle. Once again YAC members and parents came to help their beloved leaders to spread the archaeological word. Kathryn, Lee and Olivia all did sterling work (sorry).

Digging for very old rubbish
Digging for very old rubbish

It was a really hectic day; much busier than Saturday. We really could have done with more space and a few more boxes of archaeological goodness for folk to poke about in.

By 16:00 we had been visited by about 300 people, making the total for the two days just a little over 500!

May I have some more sword please sir?
May I have some more sword please sir?

Today people were trying on the chainmail, attempting to lift the replica Bruce sword and excavating and then un-excavating our medieval bones and pottery bits.

Lots of young folk were collecting stickers for their Heritage Hero passports. They had to complete four activities, including an archaeological dig, to be awarded a Heritage Hero certificate. The folk on the Archaeology Scotland stand provided us with stickers to hand out, and we had pretty much run out by the end of the day. It was a great idea and really encouraged families to try out a range of activities.

Young certificated heroes!
Young certificated heroes!
Scotland's Urban Past were just next door
Scotland’s Urban Past were just next door
One size chainmail, guaranteed to fit
One size chainmail, guaranteed to fit
Knight knight
Knight knight
Half way through a makeover
Half way through a makeover
Digging for very old rubbish
Digging for very old rubbish
YAC members at work
YAC members at work
Anonymous knight
Anonymous knight
On the verge of major archaeological discoveries
On the verge of major archaeological discoveries

The Great Big History Weekend – Saturday 1st April

Some of us have been at Stirling Castle today running a stand at the Great Big History Weekend put on by Historic Environment Scotland (Historic Scotland as was). Katy, Michael, Ronan and Ryan came along to help out today, along with assorted grandparents and parents who helped out too. We had more than 200 visitors over the course of the afternoon!

The Mystery Leader with the big nose and shiny head
The Mystery Leader with the big nose and shiny head

We had some finds from the graveyard dig along with two boxes of finest top soil in which we buried medieval cattle bones, pottery and coal found at Abbot House in 1992. Loads of children came to have a go at excavating, with our intrepid volunteers quickly burying everything again ready for the next visitors.

What's it worth to remove this photograph I wonder
What’s it worth to remove this photograph I wonder

We also took along our collection of medieval-style clothes and armour along with the replica of Robert the Bruce’s sword. These proved a massive success, attracting attention and plenty of young folk wanting to try on the wee chainmail.

That chainmail again
That chainmail again
Wielding the replica of Robert the Bruce's inflatable sword
Wielding the replica of Robert the Bruce’s inflatable sword

We’re back again tomorrow from 12:00 to 16:00 along with folk from Archaeology Scotland, HES and other groups with plenty of archaeological activities to try out.

YAC member modelling chainmail
Modelling chainmail

 

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 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

Playing in the dirt with Fife Young Carers

Over the last few months some of the YAC leaders have been running single session, introduction to archaeology courses for Fife Young Carers groups.

FYC does an amazing job, supporting young folk often in very difficult circumstances and running fortnightly meetings with activities and food laid on for groups across the county. Dunfermline YAC leaders provided a meeting activity and even helped to eat the food on occasion!

Last week we used our collection of medieval pottery sherds and animal bones from around Fife to focus on medieval archaeology with junior groups meeting in Glenrothes and Kennoway.

The carers and leaders from each group have been so welcoming and enthusiastic, despite the occasional, initial reservation about dirt and old cow bones and teeth. We have seen some amazing work by the young folk over the months; meticulous trowelling, excellent recording of finds and some really creative use of the dig boxes, as you can see.

Dirt Sculpture in a Mini-Dig Box

Heritage Hero Award

 

 

 

 

 

The commitment of the young carers has been recognised by Archaeology Scotland, with all the young participants earning much deserved Heritage Hero awards.

So we really just wanted to say thanks so much for having us and we’re looking forward to more hands-on archaeology with Fife Young Carers in the future.

 

Medieval archaeology in a box
Amassing finds of medieval pottery, animal bones and toothbrushes.
Medieval archaeology in a box
Hands getting dirty