Relatively Dry Graveyard Soil Shock!

YAC members and leaders alike were shocked and disturbed on Saturday by the relatively dry soil conditions in some parts of the graveyard excavation site. “It’ll end in tears, you mark my words,” commented a worried leader as he pulled on his second hat. Rain came too little and too late in the day, which is just typical.

Anyway, we had a good turn out and got lots done. Further progress was made on the measured drawing of our split-personality gravestone, as you can see. Either we are seeing a scallop shell and saltire, or a shell-headed alien raising its weird arms in surrender to a citizen of Dunfermline. Remember that we have already seen clear images of aliens on a nearby gravestone.

Working on a measured drawing
YAC member pretending to work on a measured drawing just so I could take a photograph
Measured drawing of gravestone with saltire and scallop shell
Measured drawing of gravestone with “saltire and scallop shell” progressing well
Slightly out-of-date plan of Area 2 of Graveyard Excavation
Slightly out-of-date plan of Area 2 of Graveyard Excavation

Trench 3 (east extension)

Excavating another curbstone
Excavating another curbstone

At the south end of the site more of the masonry block that lies between table gravestone and the buried curbed low-marker was revealed. It’s a substantial piece of stone and seems to have been scored, perhaps to take mortar. It is wider than the table stone above, so were they ever related to each other? Several broken bricks turned up within the curbed area and another immediately underneath the table gravestone. Evidence of brick-wielding aliens I wonder?

Fragments of small glass vessel
Fragments of small glass vessel

Two fragments of a small glass vessel were among the finds, in amongst the ash and slag. The glass was photographed against a black background, but is actually clear. Note the mold-line running through the centre of the pieces.

Fragments of clay tobacco pipe were recovered, including part of a decorated bowl. Hopefully there is enough detail surviving for identification.

Clay tobacco pipe fragments
Clay tobacco pipe fragments

In a Far Corner of Trench 9

The strange discovery of a masonry block
The strange discovery of a masonry block

This trench should have been pretty much done and dusted (we always dust our trenches), but alas, our members will keep uncovering new features. Today’s surprise was a small, nicely finished masonry block right up against the corner of a large curbstone, for no readily obvious reason. At first glance it looks as though it may once have been part of another curb.

More glass was excavated around the block; this time fragments of a corrugated-style plate glass. A quick look revealed that at least two pieces fit together. There are plenty of bubbles within the glass, so it was not of the best quality.

Fragment of "corrugated" plate glass
Fragment of “corrugated” plate glass

Meanwhile in Trench 4

Work continued to expand Trench 4 westward – a move that has been predicted will end in conflict with the inhabitants of Trench 1. Be that as it may, we need to be able to record the gravestone at the eastern end of the trench and the curb running along the north edge. Excavation was made laborious by the dry soil conditions.

Excavating a curbstone
Excavating a curbstone

Some Nails

As a final treat, here are some nails that came out of some of the trenches today. More often than not they are incased in little knobly balls of rust, soil and stone, but we were lucky enough to find some unaturally clean examples. The nail on the right is particularly nice. The thick, square head shows that it is handmade. The others are most likely handmade too, but are more encrusted. Was the lefthand example a hook, or just a bent nail do you think?

Handmade nails
Nice nails

Illustration Workshops

Fife Young Archaeologists’ Club is offering archaeological illustration workshops to members over three weeks in June, with tuition by the experienced, Canadian artist and illustrator Alexis Ironside.

Illustration of bone knife by Alexis Ironside
Illustration of bone knife by Alexis Ironside

Subject matter comes in the form of medieval animal bone and pottery from our collection from Abbot House in Dunfermline, along with various fake and real medieval and Roman coins.

  • Fragment of bovine leg bone
  • Fragment of bovine jaw with teeth
  • Fragment of sheep jaw with teeth
  • Vespasian Dupondius - Head
  • Vespasian Dupondius - Obverse, eagle standing on globe
  • Gordian III, AE28 Sestertius, Viminacium, Moesia
  • Gordian III, Sestertius, Viminacium, Moesia

Even in these days of digital cameras and laser scanners, the ability to make an accurate, measured drawing of a find is an essential part of archaeology. The illustrator looks, interprets and gains an understanding what they draw. Their drawing then passes on those insights to the rest of us.

Illustration of decorated, bone harpoon point by Alexis Ironside

We will meet in the GlassRoom, Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline from 18:30 – 20:00 on Wednesday 5th, 12th and 19th.

Existing members can book places by following the links below and RSVP’ing :

Anyone else wishing to participate should contact me by email to enquire about joining Young Archaeologists’ Club. The cost is only £15 a year and members have the opportunity to join our excavation in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard and attend our meetings at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther.

Archaeology of a Crisp Packet

During one of our YAC meets I began seeing similar bits of plastic amongst the finds, my first thought was ‘it’s just rubbish’ but in truth this crisp packet is more interesting than just any bit of litter. Just as shown in the pictures the front of the packet remains intact, unfortunately the same can not be said for the rest of it and there is a chunk of packet still missing from its back. The design is fairly simple, sporting three main features –

1. The “New! CRACKLE fresh” headline.

Golden Wonder Crisp Packet
Golden Wonder Crisp Packet

As there was no date to be found on the remains of the package we can’t say exactly when it was from, we can assume though that it is from 1965-66 as that is when Golden Wonders brilliant new packaging came out. Branded ‘crackle fresh’ and far more efficient at keeping your crisps fresh than anything else at that point, with the bold lettering at the top of the packet proclaiming that this packet is “now crackle fresh!” we can safely assume that it was made not long after the release of the new packaging

2. “Golden Wonder Crisps”

This is a strange one as I have not been able to find any similar packaging on the internet. However, it does have a recognisable Golden Wonder figure.

3. A Blue Man

Golden Wonder Crisp Packet
Golden Wonder Crisp Packet

A blue, silhouetted man sporting a bonnet and eating from a bag of crisps. Our little ‘Golden Wonder’s man is one of the old logos for the company, in fact he is the original face of Golden Wonder Crisps – aside from their creator William Alexander. Due to the shape of the red bubble “Golden Wonder Crisps” resides in it is fair to say that this little man is proclaiming the brand name.

4. “Smokey Bacon”

And finally a red strip containing the number “4.0” and the words “Smokey Bacon Flavor”. Within the YAC group we decided that the “4.0” probably means the pack cost 4p when it was bought, with means that it would have cost about 74p if purchased today. Which is the same price as most single packets of crisps.

As for the flavour – Smokey Bacon – not much can be said, but the packet does have a fairly cute pig on the back. Although Golden Wonder was the first company to flavour their crisps, releasing their Cheese and Onion crisps in 1962, so they must have done a lot of work after the success of them as our crisp packet is from only 3 or 4 years later.

Finding this packet prompted me to look into the history of Golden Wonder’s and crisps in general, here is some of the information I found – it may be interesting to you.

The Golden Wonder crisp was born in 1947 when an Edinburgh baker (William Alexander), started to make crisps in the afternoon when all his baking was finished. He had the inspiration to call his crisps after the Golden Wonder potato, and when production really took off, it’s said that his factories ‘could transform an unpeeled potato into a “crackle fresh” cellophane bag in twelve minutes!’

Golden Wonder Crisp Packet
Golden Wonder Crisp Packet

The original crisp however was made in England by Dr William Kitchiner in the early 19th Century, this is proved by his published book, ‘The Cook’s Oracle’ which contained a recipe for crisps. Another English man, Frank Smith (a greengrocer) began selling crisps to London shops and pubs. In 1913 he was producing 1000 bags of  ‘Smiths Crisps’ every week, and by 1920 it was half a million bags per week, Smiths Crisps continued at the head of the market until 1965, when Golden Wonder officially gained  the largest share of the market.

Interestingly, it was ‘Smiths Crisps’ that were sent to the front line to try and keep British troops spirits lifted during World War II, and at about the same time, more and more butchers and bakers began to fry their own crisps during times of rationing to supplement their income.

Anyway… you can see from the pictures, the size of crisp packets today have not changed much from those in 1965, there may be less weight of crisps in them today however, and the oils used for frying the potatoes in is definitely lighter. Dr Kitchiner suggested using lard or dripping, whereas we now use the lighter choice of vegetable oils – and it’s not just potatoes that are used nowadays – it’s all kinds of vegetables and pulses – there’s almost too much choice…..

Maybe someone in the future will also find themselves strangely interested and invested in one of our discarded crisp packets.


No rain and fairly mild in the graveyard

Saturday, May 4th 2019, YAC met in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard on a day without any rain and really not that cold for the time of year. Lots of us turned up, so we got lots done. We started a measured drawing of one of the more interesting gravestones we have discovered and continued to excavate in three other areas.

Farthing Find

Finds included another coin – this time a Victorian farthing, a quarter of a penny.

Whilst farthings had been withdrawn from circulation before I was born, I do remember sweets being sold two for a ha’penny (half a penny), and so had presumably been priced one a farthing not so many years before.

The farthing was located on top of graveyard soil, at the base of a deep layer of ash that runs across much of the west side of the site. The ash above the coin can’t be older than the coin, so must have been deposited after 1887, though of course we don’t know how much later.