We were invited by Edinburgh Archaeology Outreach Project (EAOP) to help with their first Family Fun Day, held at Summerhall on Saturday, so naturally we did. Aisling, Campbell, Ella, Kathryn, Keziah and Nicoleta came along to help run the Fife YAC stand and to enjoy the other activities on offer (including the rather tasty looking cakes).
We brought along the horse skeleton excavated by AOC near Cromarty and some of the sieved spoil from the dovecote in Pittencrieff Park, to let people have a go at finding small animal bones. We gave away lots of YAC postcards, so hopefully there will be at least one or two new members joining the Edinburgh group.
With 224 visitors visiting Summerhall over the course of the day, we were kept busy right up till 4 o’clock closing time. All four bags of spoil were sorted by lots of potential young archaeologists at no cost to us. Interestingly, the adults were much less eager to offer free labour. Meanies!
As usual, most of the photos were taken by Aisling.
We ran a workshop about North European, Bronze Age textiles and clothes in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum on Saturday.
To get some idea of what at least some people wore we looked at images of a group of amazing Bronze Age, Danish burials in hollowed log coffins. Oxygen free conditions have prevented fabrics from rotting, preserving a variety of woollen clothes.
One of the most famous burials, excavated in the late 19th century, is known as the Egtved Girl burial, named after the location of the burial mound in which a young woman was found.
Recent research has revealed that the Egtved young woman, along with the clothes in which she was buried, originated in southern Germany and that she died at most just a few months after arriving in Denmark.
Her woollen clothes really don’t match up to stereotypical images of simple, and primitive prehistoric clothing. She was buried in a cropped blouse and “string” miniskirt that would have looked very cool when she danced at Bronze Age music festivals, especially with the bronze disk over her tummy.
It’s probably just a matter of time before archaeologists identify Bronze Age hand luggage and duty free shopping bags.
You may not be surprised to learn that the clothing recovered from the graves of males tends to be less skimpy and apparently more practical. Archaeologists and re-enactors have put together complete costumes based on items found in different burials in Denmark to give us an idea of what the well dressed Bronze Age man liked to wear.
Once again pretty much everything is woollen, with leather shoes and accessories. The cosy and very fetching hat, of which a few examples have survived, is made of felt; wool that has been pressed rather than woven.
Anyway, back in Dunfermline we had a look at the ancient and pretty much universal spinning technology known as drop spindle spinning.
Spinning is the process of taking a raw material, such as wool and turning it into thread that can be woven into cloth. Drop spinning is about as simple as it gets. All you need is:
The raw material for your cloth;
A stick for your drop spindle;
Some kind of weight for the whorl fixed at one end of your spindle;
Lacking the last requirement, we tried enthusiasm instead, with limited success, but much fun.
Archaeologists tend to find just the spindle whorls; they were often made of clay or stone and so survive well. Today it is common for wooden whorls to be used and this may have been so in prehistoric times too.
Whorls survive in various shapes and sizes and sometimes decorated to produce attractive patterns when spinning. So it was out with the air-drying clay, bits of dowel, lolly sticks and cutlery items (used as tools to incise decoration) as members and visitors settled down to making their own spindle whorls.
Once some whorls had been produced it was time to attempt to spin some Jacob sheep wool that we happened to have.
The legend goes that these sheep first came to Britain with the Spanish armada in the 16th century. Recent research by the University of Edinburgh suggests that they are descended directly from sheep breeds in Africa and South West Asia rather than Britain.
The wool felt lovely and soft, but proved tricky to work with. We tried to gently tease out the fibres with fingers as the spindle spun to produce woollen thread.
We watched a video on YouTube that demonstrates how to make thread, but clearly the lady in the video has practised beforehand, probably multiple times. We managed only to make what she makes look easy, seem very hard indeed.
The experience, apart from being fun, raised questions about the effects of using whorls of different weights or shape and impact of the properties of different kinds of wool on spinning technique and drop spindle design.
What about the decoration, or lack of decoration on whorls at different times and places? Were decorated whorls just intended to look pretty, or were they ever intended to have deeper significance when they were set to spin?
The workshop focused on the medieval archaeology of Scottish burghs, informed by work done over the years in Perth, Dunfermline and Anstruther itself. Participants got to excavate medieval ceramics (some from Anstruther), animal bone, and other bits and bobs. There were post holes filled with ash, burnt coal, charcoal and sand to discover and a ceramic vessel, spread across for mini-dig boxes, to assemble and reconstruct.
Our excavators were aged from almost 8 to 14 and they all did magnificent jobs, working most carefully and thoroughly for more than an hour and thoroughly earned the Heritage Hero awards they achieved.
Alexander very kindly gave up his afternoon to lug heavy boxes of soil and sand about and stand in the icy wind that blew round the courtyard at the centre of the museum. His only reward was to complete the reconstruction of the vessel and then take it apart again ready for next time. We reckon there are probably two bits missing.
Along with members and leaders of Stirling YAC and Edinburgh YAC we had a look at the free to visit The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial exhibition. It comprises of artefacts and a mummy excavated by the talented, Scottish archaeologist Alexander Henry Rhind (1833 – 1863).
Rhind was ill much of his short life and took to spending part of the year in Egypt for the sake of his health. There he pioneered a rigorous, scientific approach to excavation, just as he did in his native Caithness.
Rhind excavated a tomb originally created for the chief of police in the great city of Thebes more than three thousand years ago, at a time when Egypt was a mighty empire. The tomb was robbed and reused over the millennia, for the last time by a well-to-do Egyptian family living under Roman rule, just a few years before the birth of Christ.
Everything he excavated Rhind brought back to Scotland to form the basis of the impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts held by the National Museum of Scotland.
The exhibition is just a taste of the amazing finds that document over a thousand years of Egyptian funerary practice and belief. Once the new Egypt and Asia gallery opens in 2018 there will be even more of Rhind’s finds to see.
We had a very pleasant mooch around the exhibition, marvelling as and when appropriate and taking a really long time to choose from the treasures on display in the shop, conveniently placed at the exhibition exit.
We got round much more quickly than anticipated, so we headed down to the Early People section of the Scottish History and Archaeology Galleries to compare and contrast the material remains of the Scottish cultures contemporary with that of Egypt. There were definitely differences.
Tired, hungry and museumed-out we limped our way to George Square for lunch and a rest in the History, Classics and Archaeology common room. Then, refreshed and alert, we were taken by Laura, YAC leader and postgrad. student, to one of the archeology lab.s for an exciting hour and a half of animal and human bones, disease and anatomy with ceramic reconstruction on the side.
Everyone had an amazing time, learning lots and having fun at the same time. Our thanks to the students who gave up their Saturday afternoons for our benefit.
This was the first ever YAC meeting to take place in the dry, out of the rain, in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. We were given a lovely warm welcome by the volunteers on duty and some of us even learned the mysteries of the hot drinks machine. We had a fine turnout: Aisling, Alexander, Andrew, Daniel, Douglas, Katie, Keziah, Kathryn, Lee, Olivia, Ryan and Sienna all working hard.
We focused on sorting and cleaning some of the finds made on site in recent weeks. Leader Laura took charge of the bone table, while Charlotte managed the everything else table.
After a great sorting, the water went into the wash basins and out came the toothbrushes for the washing.
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).
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kathryn and Olivia took the chance to explore the house. They best remember the barrel-vaulted kitchen, with its massive fire-place. It had been rebuilt of stone in the 16th century after the original, wooden kitchen had burnt to the ground. It is kitted out with replica jugs and bowls and other kitchen equipment to give an idea of what it had looked like in the past. Olivia was disappointed not to be able to pick up the knives that had been glued to the chopping boards. Kathryn, on the other hand, was quite glad.
There were people from all over Scotland at the launch who had helped to pilot the awards. Some folk talked about the projects they had run. They included a cool project in Kilmarnock. Seven school children had researched the lives of men from the local railway-works who had fought in World War 1. The research was used in museum displays and even to produce a book.
Mark talked a bit about the Dunfermline Abbey graveyard project and a school project he had helped with at a local primary school. Olivia had participated in both projects. She talked about how she had come to join YAC as a result of getting involved with the school project. Olivia was cheered when we realised that she is probably the first person in the world to get two Heritage Hero awards.
Kathryn and Olivia rounded things off by first cutting and then eating large amounts a celebration cake. Olivia found the fondant covering a little too sweet and thick, but enjoyed the sponge. Kathryn just ate and enjoyed it. Mark, inconsiderately, spent so much time, gassing that Kathryn and Olivia had to drag him off without even trying the cake. What a shame.
However, we had good soup in the castle café, enjoyed the fog and had a look round the gift shop. Olivia bought postcards and soap for her mum while Kathryn bought a fancy, medieval catapult, pencil sharpener so she can ping things at her siblings. It works well. Mark wasn’t allowed to buy anything.
We had an excellent session with Scotland’s Urban Past and Steven from Immersive Mind yesterday. We are working together to create a map of medieval Dunfermline using the computer game Minecraft, which many of our members are already avid fans of!
Steven has created a map of Dunfermline using information taken from Google maps. It includes local landmarks like the Glen, which has hills, trees and the river running through it. Impressive! But we must populate it with buildings! First off, Abbot House. Once the group has built Abbot House on our server, Steven will lift the building and place it in to this pre-created topography of Dunfermline.
Next, Fiona from SUP did a session on Mason’s marks. Those longer-serving YAC members might remember the walk around Dunfermline Abbey we did to hunt for Mason’s marks. These marks were identifying marks which Mason’s would carve in to stone to mark their handiwork. We decided that it would be a nice idea for each YAC member to design their own mark which they could then place somewhere on each of their Minecraft builds. Each member came up with their own unique design, some using their initials. We then had a go at placing these into a Minecraft build so we could see what they would look like.
Next, Dougie talked us through the excellent work he and Erin have done to convert old archival documents and measurements of Abbot House in to easy to understand plans that we can build from. Thank you Dougie and Erin for all of your hard work on this over the last few months! We now have plans which have been converted in to Minecraft blocks so that we can begin building our masterpiece!
We thought we would let everyone have a little go at using the plans and everyone seemed to pick it up really quickly. We soon had something resembling a very early Abbot House. We chatted about what materials we thought it may have been made from, and chose appropriate Minecraft blocks to reflect this. We also chatted about the fact that we know there was an external staircase to the first floor, but have no documents to show what this would have looked like. Members are now experimenting with finding somewhere to fit a staircase that won’t block windows and doors.
We have set a task for each member at home. We would like you (perhaps with a littler independent research) to build your own building to go on to the Maygate (opposite Abbot House). It could be a shop, or maybe a home. You will need to think about what materials your building would be made of, and what would be inside. Maybe it is a building where several families live, which would have been common in poor, overcrowded places. What would each family need? A bed? A fireplace? Were there any animals on your land? The only stipulation is that your building can be a maximum of 16 blocks wide and 10 blocks deep. Happy building Minecrafters!
If you didn’t manage to come along to the session but have signed up for your Minecraft login then please keep an eye on your email because I have sent you further details to help you get started.