By: Josie and Gordon
New discoveries resurface in the search for Dunfermline’s past …
As part of the Pittencrieff Field School, a group of archaeological volunteers and archaeology students have been searching part of Dunfermline Abbey’s old graveyard. We hope to find some of the grave markers that have submerged below ground level over time. One of the more recent intriguing discoveries has been a long border stone surrounding a grave plot that unexpectedly extended, but only one side.
This discovery was entirely by chance (as is a lot of archaeology…) as the area around the grave was being cleaned, prepped to be drawn and photographed for our records. However, in one corner there was part of a metal bracket peeking through and once we’d dug under a tree root, we found it was connected to another stone heading west. This was a bit different from the other stones we have been working on, so we excavated to see if it was just an isolated, broken piece or marker or an indication of another plot. Gordon noticed some marks on the top which, when cleaned, started to resemble letters… intriguing. As the team worked further, Stuart found what was indeed a second row of letters and we then could decipher the word “daughter.” What came next was a surname and a date that we think reads to be “1831.”
More writing was found and then a second set of inscriptions. Roots hid the next part, so we dug around a bit and found they had snapped the stone, with a part broken off.
Fortunately, keen eyes spotted two small pieces of dark rock that when put onto the main stone contained the missing inscriptions. We continued to ‘chase’ (follow) the stone until we found the end. It was then that Nikki found the third inscription! Roots still cover part of it, but after Josie cleaned the top, we could see that it was written in memory of two daughters and a son.
Checking throughout the Abbey graveyards, the team have since a few similar ones on the eastern side of the Abbey, but of recent date. With the information now gathered, it is hoped that local historians will be able to find out more about this particular family, and hence the history of Dunfermline and its residents whose eternal resting place lies in the Abbey graveyard.
Artefact Awareness: Glass!
One of the more common artefacts that we find on site are glass fragments. These have come in a variety of sizes and colours, ranging from tiny shards to intact bottles, and from clear to light blue to dark green colours. While we cannot be certain as to the exact functions of these finds, we can deduce our own speculations based on our own knowledge of the site. For example, while the graveyard was still being used for burials, we know that members of the public would dump their rubbish on site despite being asked to refrain from doing so. This could mean that some of the artefacts we are finding are pieces of trash that someone wanted to dispose of.
At the same time, just around the corner of the Abbey behind where we are currently digging was a grocers that specialised in making and selling bottled ‘Champagne Ginger Beer.’ As this shop belonged to Gilbert Rae, he would have his name printed on the bottles that were produced in his shop. While most of the fragments of glass that we have found are too small to know their specific purpose, we have been lucky enough to find large enough sections of glass bottles, some of which have been inscribed with Gilbert’s name. This could indicate that some of the bottles produced in the factory were then dumped into the graveyard, either by the workers or by the public.