Pittencrieff Field School 2019 Blog: Day 5

By: Josie and Gordon

New discoveries resurface in the search for Dunfermline’s past …

Stuart works to uncover the inscriptions on the new stone!
Stuart works to uncover the inscriptions on the new stone!

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.”

AComposite image created by our site photographer, Nikki, of the new gravestone we recently uncovered.
AComposite image created by our site photographer, Nikki, of the new gravestone we recently uncovered.

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.

A similar grave marker/memorial that we found on the south side of the graveyard.
A similar grave marker/memorial that we found on the south side of the graveyard.
Another example on the south side of the graveyard dating to the late 1800s.
Another example on the south side of the graveyard dating to the late 1800s.

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.

Gilbert Rae’s shop, just outside the graveyard. 19th century photo by permission of Frank Connelly

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.

Pittencrieff Field School 2019 Blog: Day 4

By: Ryan and Joanna

Drawing a section
Jenny works on a section drawing of an exposed gravestone supported by 5 distinct depositional layers.

The days are flying by during our first week of the field school, and as of day 4 we are still trying to wrap up our work in Area 2 of the site in order to move to the yet unstarted Area 3. However, this is proving to be a task more difficult than initially planned as we have had trouble pulling ourselves away from the seemingly unending new features that keep popping up as we clean the trench. To tidy up our excavation areas, there are several jobs that need to be done – recording, backfilling, and most importantly, keeping our students from finding new features! The discovery of new features during the last few days have given our supervisors severe mental trauma… we think this is mostly because every time we find a new feature, it’s one less day used towards backfilling the trench!

Rob oversees the backfilling of finished trenches.
Rob oversees the backfilling of finished trenches.
Rhiann works to clean the small crevices from under a large gravestone before it can be recorded.
Rhiann works to clean the small crevices from under a large gravestone before it can be recorded.

Site recording is well underway as Jenny and Annika have been drawing the section of the southernmost table stone of Area 2 while Josie and Joanna cleaned the curbstone just below. Several other students have teamed up to work on uncovering the edges of a curbstone of the northernmost table stone in Area 2. Cleaning these areas has unveiled artifacts similar in quality to what has been uncovered the past few days so at least the artifacts are proving consistent. These artifacts include loose animal bone shards that have been cast aside, slag and iron nails strewn between the thick mesh of roots and stones, as well as the odd oyster shell, pottery/glass shards.

Artefact Awareness: Clay Pipes

Clay pipe bowl found during recent excavation
Clay pipe bowl found during recent excavation

The humble clay pipe originated in England in the late 16th century and went on to gain significant popularity in Britain and Europe over the following centuries. As clay pipes were cheap, common items, they were easily disposable and, when combined with the sturdy nature of its material, it means that they often turn up in large quantities in archaeological sites. Archaeologists often have a soft spot for clay pipes as they are very useful for dating sites and identifying connections with other areas. The length of the stem, the shape of the bowl, and any decorative marks all help to identify the location of origin and the time period of the pipe.

Fragments of clay pipes have been a common find on our site so far, but over the past couple of days we have found two clay pipe bowls that are almost perfectly intact! Our on-site self-proclaimed clay pipe ‘expert’ [don’t give him any ideas ;)] has estimated one pipe to date back to roughly the 17th century, and the other pipe to the 19th century, or possibly later. Back in the day, Dunfermline was home to several clay pipe manufacturers, such as William Richmond, so it’s possible that our pipes were locally made; however, Scotland had a high demand for clay pipes made in the Netherlands, so it’s also possible that our clay pipes have travelled very far indeed!

Clay tobacco pipe bowl and fragment of stem
Simply decorated clay tobacco pipe bowl and fragments of stem
Decorated tobacco pipe stem
Decorated tobacco pipe stem

Pittencrieff Field School 2019 Blog: Day 3

By: Sarah and Rhiann

Day three started off with a group meeting so everyone could catch up with the activities in all areas of the site. Tasks were allocated as we want to wrap up the current corner of the graveyard and move to a different section tomorrow.

Placing a small gravestone back in position
Group effort to place a small gravestone back in the position in which we originally found it. We often turn over gravestones to check for inscriptions on the reverse side.

Some people were still excavating one part of the site, while others were prepping areas to be documented. Time was taken to clean the areas around a few of the gravestones in order to make sure they are nice and clean for the photographs. Once the photos are taken and the stones recorded on our site plan, they will be covered or “backfilled” with soil. Cleaning these gravestones involved troweling the delicate sections to ensure a clean profile edge, brushing the debris from the top of the gravestones, and scraping the dirt out from the inscribed letters to make them more legible. This ensured that no crucial details would be missed when taking the photographs and makes it easier for the final measurements to be taken.

Jenny at the dumpy level
Jenny at the dumpy level

Students were also introduced to the dumpy level process. For those who don’t know, a dumpy level is a piece of equipment used in surveying which measures the height of something (a feature, artefact location, gravestone, etc.) in relation to a known height above sea level, based on the National Grid System. The dumpy level sits atop a tripod and is used in conjunction with a measuring staff. This is important because it provides a three- dimensional element to our recording and this lets us record the heights of our excavated gravestones. The recording process is a vital aspect of archaeology and helps to preseve and document features and sites for posterity.

Students practice taking levels
Students practice taking levels on the exposed gravestones before the trench is backfilled.

Real Talk

The Ethics of Digging in a Graveyard

Talking with the public
Mark, the site director, often gives curious members of the public trench-side talks about the Dunfermline Abbey cemetery and our research aims.

One of the most common jokes we get as archaeologists involved in a graveyard project is that we are grave robbers. We laugh it off, but there are some serious issues that come with this job. Some people have very strong feelings about the moral and ethical implications of graveyard archaeology and believe the dead should rest in peace for eternity.

So how do we justify the ethical issues associated with digging up human remains?

To start, there are specific laws governing the excavation of human remains. These laws vary within each country and can influence the treatment and preservation of the remains before, during, and after excavation. In addition to this, the majority of burial sites require passes and permits before any sort of archaeology work is allowed. Extra-special care must also be taken for sites with existing ancestral ties, such as Native American burial grounds in the United States which themselves are governed by the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

If a graveyard is in danger of being disrupted or destroyed – for example, from modern construction or natural hazards – then archaeologists are brought in to examine the site in more detail and to help stabilize, preserve, or relocate the graves.

The other important factor which differentiates archaeologists from common grave robbers is the detailed recording and analytical process which enables us to form a picture of the past that would otherwise be unknown. The copious scientific and historical information that can be discovered from graveyard archaeology includes past uses of cemeteries, burial practices, the health and lifestyles of people, and attitudes towards death and dying, among many other social practices and beliefs. We ensure to conduct ourselves with respect and we handle human remains with the dignity they deserve. All human remains are reinterred in a timely and respectful manner, as is expected of our profession and the laws which govern our actions.

So while bystanders may think it funny to shout off a quip about us being modern-day grave robbers, not all of us archaeologists find this simile amusing! We take our profession and actions within a graveyard very seriously and we hope to educate the public about why graveyard archaeology is beneficial to understanding human history.

Pittencrieff Field School 2019 Blog: Day 2

By: Nikki and Annika

We’ve had a busy day in the trench on day 2 as the sun has finally returned and the puddles have (mostly) dried! As we no longer need scuba gear to enter the trench, we could dive right into the mud and start digging. The agenda for today included a multitude of tasks as we’re keen to finish digging and recording this trench before moving over to the other side of the graveyard by the late medieval house known as Abbot House.

Some brave volunteers have taken on the task of mattocking. This is a technique we use when we want to remove a large amount of soil very quickly from a designated areas. Mattocking is ideal for an area where we aren’t expecting many small finds, fragile artifacts, or delicate features as it is a more rapidly destructive process than troweling. A mattock is like a giant pickaxe; however, unlike a pickaxe, the head of a mattock has a pick at one end and an adze at the other which we use to scrape the soil. The mattock can be pretty heavy to wield, so we made sure that people took turns to remove the soil from in front of a table stone to get a clearer view of the underlying plinths. Once all the soil is removed, we’ll be able to do a section drawing, which is essentially a vertical profile of the trench or feature edge.

Working on the sondage in the southwest corner of the trench.
Annika, Joanna, and Nikki (not pictured as she is the site photographer!) worked on the sondage in the southwest corner of the trench.

At the last hour of work on Friday, a volunteer digger found the end of a tombstone just peeking out from one of the trench walls. In order to see the rest of the stone, we decided to dig a sondage. A sondage is a French word meaning “survey.” In an archaeological context, it is a ‘trench within a trench,’ excavated to reveal more information about a feature. The face of this newly revealed headstone may already be eroded, but hopefully some of the inscription remains which could provide us with a date or an identity for the buried person(s). This small extension to the trench has the potential to add one more story to the complex history of the Dunfermline graveyard.

Planning frame set over one of the brick gravestone foundations
Students learned how to conduct a plan drawing of the northwestern corner of the trench. This image shows our planning frame set over one of the brick gravestone foundations.

Archaeology is more than just digging, and our work today included planning as well. Archaeological plans are precise, scaled drawings of features, completed with the aid of a planning frame and special grid paper. It’s an artistic process but it’s also a scientific one, and a good plan captures the essence of a site while retaining exact measurements and following established drawing conventions. For example, the edge of the trench (or limit of excavation) is usually marked with a dot-dash line, and the edge of a feature is marked with a solid line. In order to record a site, the archaeologist first lays down a planning frame and a metre square grid marked out in 10 cm increments. At our site, we are using a 1:20 scale which reduced what we see in real life to fit the known scale on the graph paper.

Planning a trench can be a slow, painstaking process. So why do archeologists use this instead of just taking photographs? Perspectives in photographs can distort the location of features and objects in the trench. Additionally, plans are better for demarcating features that do not show up as clearly in a photograph, like the edge of a pit or rocks which are a similar color to the soil. The plan drawings provide the archaeologist’s interpretation of the trench or feature in which they record. However, photographs are also essential for showing soil color and can provide far more detail than most plan drawings could at a 1:20 scale.

As the story of Dunfermline continues to unfold in our trench, we’re hoping that the good weather holds and we can keep on digging. Stay tuned for more trenchy good news tomorrow!

Fact Corner!

Tools: Become a Maverick Mattock Master!

A Mattock

Archaeology often uses the tools from other professions such as carpentry, architecture, and construction. Like our trowels and square grids, the mattock is another implement we have added to our tool kit. The first mattocks in Britain were Mesolithic tools often made with deer antler. They were important in the rise of agriculture and are still used to the present day in many tasks, such as clearing rocks and tree roots. In ancient Scotland, these versatile tools were used to strip the blubber from whale carcasses. Today, in addition to practical land uses, they are used by the military to dig foxholes and of course by us archaeologists. It really is a handy tool (pun intended) to take off layers of soil in a quick, expedient manner!

Pittencrieff Field School 2019 Blog: Day 1

By: Stuart and Katie

The 2019 field school students line up to conduct a pedestrian survey of the graveyard stone types.
The 2019 field school students line up to conduct a pedestrian survey of the graveyard stone types.

The historic town of Dunfermline, situated north of the Firth of Forth in Scotland and birthplace of the world-renowned industrialist Andrew Carnegie, has been a centre of historical importance from the early Medieval Period right up to the modern day. The most obvious example of this is the beautifully constructed Abbey which lies at the end of the ancient entrance to Dunfermline. The Abbey is the final resting place to many famous Kings and Queens of Scotland, ranging from Robert the Bruce to Queen Margaret.

The graveyard then is clearly of tremendous historical importance and the Pittencrieff Project focuses on illuminating the site’s use over time and uncovering valuable information of significance; information that is not just important to Dunfermline itself, but to Scotland and the UK as a whole.

Though excavation has been underway for several years now, most of this field season’s volunteers have only just arrived, including today’s blog writers – Katie and Stuart. Arriving after the initial start of the excavation can be a challenge, but the helpful project leaders (extremely friendly volunteers themselves) and the extent of the finds already uncovered have sparked our collective archaeological curiosity.

The 2019 volunteer supervisors, Jo, Cass and Rob (left to right) examine a headstone with inlaid lettering.
The 2019 volunteer supervisors, Jo, Cass and Rob (left to right) examine a headstone with inlaid lettering.

When looking at the graveyard, many gaps are noticeable amongst the long lines of headstones and (due to under-surface rubble) only through excavation will we be able to uncover these sunken graves which have long-since been lost to time. Therefore, the primary aim of this project is to reveal the murky history of the graveyard, which was active from 12th century to the end of the 19th century. Through the rediscovery of lost gravestones and other artefacts, we have already been able to begin building a picture of Dunfermline’s past.

One particularly notable example is the large number of bottles and clay pipes found in a corner of the graveyard across the street from a pub still in use today. It’s not a far stretch to imagine the locals perching atop gravestones and smoking their pipes on a warm summer afternoon after a long day of work – although perhaps that’s a stretch for the Scottish weather!

Unfortunately, however, after the good weather on the day of our arrival, we awoke today to the all-too-familiar sound of heavy rain making it extremely difficult to do any excavation on site, though at least the volunteers from parts far and wide get to experience true Scottish summertime.

Jenny, Joanna, Rhiann, Sarah, and Josie (left to right) spent the rainy morning washing artefacts.
Jenny, Joanna, Rhiann, Sarah, and Josie (left to right) spent the rainy morning washing artefacts.

Not to fear though! Work can still progress in the form of cleaning and sorting the finds which have already been made during previous excavation work. Toothbrushes and water buckets are used to gently clean bones, pieces of pottery, stems and bowls of clay pipes, as well as the occasional nail (likely used to secure the coffin lid – which would have been a symbol of higher status in earlier times). Although cleaning artefacts may sound dull when compared to excavation work, this important process allows us closely examine the finds which often reveal previously unknown details about individual artefacts.

Clumps of mud turn into bones as we clean while lines sometimes become evident on the surface, showing signs of butchery or cutting marks. In one case, a series of cut marks were seen on a piece of bone that had been clearly severed at a further point. Although this might initially indicate a butchery process, the repetition of the marks and clean cut most likely indicate a grave diggers spade striking the bone multiple times before finally cutting through.

Examples of the artefacts we find in the graveyard: oyster shells, clay pipes,
Examples of the artefacts we find in the graveyard: oyster shells, clay pipes, iron nails, glass, ceramics, and animal bones.

As you may have noticed, even at this early stage we have already gleaned valuable information about the site and this will continue to shape our understanding of the graveyard as the dig progresses during the 2019 field season.

After just a day and a half, the site is already revealing itself to us and the next few weeks should only serve to illuminate the site further and we hope you’re as excited as we are!

We hope you’ll return tomorrow for another blogpost and – hopefully – better weather!

…then again, it is Scotland.