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Slightly out-of-date plan of Area 2 of Graveyard Excavation
Slightly out-of-date plan of Area 2 of Graveyard Excavation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

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…..as 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.

-Kathryn

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.

Something Medieval?

Page of medieval, ecclesiatical music with words in Latin
Music Manuscript Page: Side 1

I have recently been given a large sheet of paper with music on both side and Latin words. It looks really old, but I don’t really know much about it at all. I know it isn’t what wwe usually think of as archaeology, but perhaps some YAC members might be interested in doing some research about it?

Here is what I know. The page was bought by my father-in-law from a bookseller in Dublin in the 1950’s. Apparently the seller was pulling pages from a large book and selling them for so many shillings each to customers. There is a bad tear and several scissor or knife cuts. The page is vellum; stretched, dried animal skin. It was used to make good quality and long-lasting paper for many centuries.

The first side has what may be a page number in the top right: XXVI, Roman numerals for 26. Curiously there are no musical notes on the first line (stave), but it is possible to see very faint writing immediately below. It looks as though it has been painted out with something. Perhaps the copyist made a mistake? A piece of vellum was probably too expensive just to throw away, so the mistake was covered up and the copyist started again.

Page of medieval, ecclesiatical music with words in Latin
Music Manuscript Page: Side 2

The reverse of the page is noticably darker. I wonder why? Is this normal with vellum perhaps? There seems to be a circular stain in the top right of the page, perhaps from a coffee cup?

There is also some modern writing in pencil in the middle of the margin on the left. The firtst line seems to read 35/68 but I’m not sure about the four letters or numbers beneath.

So; questions. How old is the sheet? Where is it from? What was the music for and who sang it? How does one look after old vellum? Is there any way to find out what the first line of the text says?

Anyone interested in helping to find out more can let me know.

Skull & Crossed Bones Revealed!

Big day today; we finally tipped the gravestone fragment overlying the skull and crossed bones stone. These were most likely chucked in with the rubble in the 1920’s. Everytime we have turned a stone, hoping to reveal an inscription, we have been disappointed. Understandably, expectations were set low.

Planning, section drawing and excavation. What a talented group we are!
Planning, section drawing and excavation. What a talented group we are!

... and don't forget the sieving ...
… and don’t forget the sieving …

Conquering the summit of the spoil heap (without oxygen tank)
Conquering the summit of the spoil heap (without oxygen tank)

Learning the archaeologists' pose
Learning the archaeologists’ pose

Yet more finds found
Yet more finds found

Archaeologists are wary of being approached from behind
Archaeologists are wary of being approached from behind

Yuck! My glove!
Yuck! My glove!

Working on the section drawing
Working on the section drawing

Meanwhile, the west section of our eastern test pit was drawn. As soon as I remember to scan it I will add am image into this post. The leaders backfilled once members had left (we always save the best jobs for ourselves). We can now start on our last test pit in this phase of the excavation.

We finished the session with a low point; lifting and turning the stone overlying our skull and crossed bones. We were not disappointed in our disappointment.

Reverse of gravestone fragment
Reverse of gravestone fragment

One day we’ll come across the Dunfermline Graveyard equivalent to this recent photograph from Pompeii.

Pompeii victim not crushed by falling masonry
Pompeii Victim not crushed by falling masonry

More Sunshine, what can this mean?

Very weird YAC session today, it was still dry and sunny. The graveyard soil is beginning to dry out and become more difficult to work. Bone in particular has to be excavated much more carefully, with wooden lolly sticks and toothpicks, when the earth is dry.

Sieving

Here are some photos of YAC members sieving their hearts out. As the soil dries out sieving becomes both easier and more productive.

Putting today's spoil into a bucket, ready to be sieved
Putting today’s spoil into a bucket, ready to be sieved

Sieving onto another part of the spoil heap, to avoid resieving the same spoil

Sedentary sieving
Sedentary sieving

Cleaning up a trench
Meticulous sieving whilst excavating

Power sieving
Power sieving

Working in the trenches
Working in the trenches

We are working on tidying up the south west trench in readiness for final recording and backfilling. Above, you can see a YAC member and assistant working on leveling the base of a trench and revealing the bottom edges of gravestones so we can measure their depth.

Below, members are working on the tricky grave discovered in the southern side of the trench. It is close to a large table stone previously excavated, underneath a smaller table stone, then disappears under the fence and towards the tree that has been slowly tipping it up with its roots.

Despite limited access and a difficult reach, we have explosed the entire depth of the curb stone and discovered a miscellany of finds in the fill of the curbed area.

Found it!
Found it!

Bone being identified (or not)
Bone being identified (or not)

Knee preservation measures

Excavating makes you happy!
Excavating makes you happy!

Planning for the future
Planning for the future

Meanwhile we have been drawing sections of the eastern test pit edge. They show very nicely the depth and composition of the rubble spread in the 1920’s. Once this is done we can backfill and move north along the row.

Section of North Trench Edge
Section of North Trench Edge

Excavating makes you miserable
Excavating makes you miserable

A Graveyard in the Sun!

At last! Back in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard again and enjoying warmth and even sunshine. We had a really good turnout and a few new members along to try their hands at excavation.

There was a high bone count today as we finished excavating a small assemblage of long bones, probably chucked back in in 1927 immediately before rubble was put down to prevent further subsidence.

Clearly something interesting going on
Clearly something interesting going on

Some intial finds interpretation
Some intial finds interpretation

Intense supervision
Foreground: Active supervision; Brackground: Static supervision

Hard at work
Hard at work in the graveyard, which is a perfectly normal thing to do

Sieving spoil for missed finds
Sieving spoil for missed finds

Look what we excavated (very carefully)
Look what we excavated (very carefully)

Standing around, so must be break time
Standing around, so must be break time

Standing around, so must be break time
Pretty sure there is some eating going on in the background of this picture

A couple of leaders clearly not doing that
A couple of leaders clearly not doing that

YAC member working on wrecking his knees
YAC member working on wrecking his knees

Teamwork in the graveyard
Teamwork in the graveyard

A find perhaps? A Worm?
A find perhaps? A Worm?

A bothersome tree root
A bothersome tree root

 

Some Bones

Here is a selection of bone, still uncleaned, that we recovered today. To view a larger image just click on a picture.

Human Vertebrae
Human Vertebrae

Interior of fragmented Occipital (back of skull)
Interior of fragmented occipital (back of skull)

Exterior of fragmented Occipital (back of skull)
Exterior of fragmented occipital (back of skull)

Ulna (forearm) and fragmented Femur (thigh bone)
Ulna (forearm) and fragment of femur (thigh bone)

Note the cut mark on this bone
See the cut mark on this bone? How do you think it was caused? Knife? Gravedigger’s spade? Is it a human or animal bone do you think?

A selection of teeth (middle one probably from a sheep)
A selection of teeth. You should be able to spot the odd one out.

Back in Anstruther

Saturday was warm and sunny, so naturally our first meeting for ages was indoors! Once again the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther played host to the cleaning and sorting of human bone fragments from Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard.  Just a few of us along today: Campbell, Kathryn, Michal, Niamh and Ryan worked away at cleaning, sorting and supervising leaders Henry, Mark and Rob.

Stan helping a member identify a bone (it was a heel)
Stan helping a member identify a bone (it was a heel)

Sorting bones into trays by broad type
Sorting bones into trays by broad type

We were joined by Dr Ennis Cezayirli from the School of Medicine at St Andrews University and a colleague of our leader Henry. Ennis is expert in identification of human bone fragments and was a great help to us.

Bone washers, washing bones
Bone washers, washing bones

 

From Graveyard to Dovecote

Sorting and separating viewed from a safe distance

Last Saturday it was sufficiently warm and dry to hold an outdoor YAC session. We had an impressive turn out, with Aisling, Algirdas, Brodie, Caleb, Fraser, Katie, Michal, Mollie, Nicoleta and Ryan all contributing to an enjoyable and productive session.

We met up in the graveyard, as you do, to sort some of the finds and also to pick through sieved spoil from the dovecote in Pittencrieff Park, looking for the small bones of small animals, rusty roof nails and the like.

Once everyone had arrived we headed up to the dovecote to excavate and sieve yet more of the spoil from last summer. We have opened a new trench in the dovecote at right angles to the existing one. So far we have more evidence of fire, with finds of burnt animal bone and patches of ash and charcoal with fallen roof tiles mixed in.

One of the more substantial fragments of burnt wood has mortar on one side, suggests that it might once have formed part of an internal wooden frame against the wall to which the pigeon nesting boxes were fixed. If this interpretation is correct, then did it burn whilst still standing or after the frame had been dismantled?

We have been interpreting the evidence of fire in the dovecote as the remains of camp fires, lit for warmth and cooking purposes. But maybe there was an uncontrolled fire inside the dovecote that brought down the wooden nesting boxes and ladder? I think a visit to the library might be in order.

All the photos were taken by Aisling this week.

Sorting finds, dreaming of freedom
Sorting finds, dreaming of freedom

At work in the graveyard
At work in the graveyard

Sorting and separating viewed from a safe distance
Sorting and separating viewed from a safe distance

Impressive shovel action
Impressive shovel action

Sorting pottery and other finds
Sorting pottery and other finds

Is this a bone I see before me?
Is this a bone I see before me?

Excavating in the dust of the dovecote
Excavating in the dust of the dovecote

Hunting for finds in the spoil and raising dust
Hunting for finds in the spoil and raising dust

The luxury of indoor excavation
The luxury of indoor excavation

Sieving for gold, but finding small animal bones
Sieving for gold, but finding small animal bones

Triumphant young archaeologist
Triumphant young archaeologist

Alert young archaeologist
Alert young archaeologist

Evil young archaeologists?
Evil young archaeologists?

Back in the Abbey Graveyard

Extending a trench

No rain, ground not waterlogged or frozen, temperature above freezing; conditions are about as good as they are likely to get for excavating in Scotland, so we met up for a couple of hours work in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard on Saturday. An excellent New Year turnout: Brodie, Caleb, Ella, Fraser, Ivan, Kathryn, Lee, Michal, Niamh and Olivia all braved the cruel whim of YAC leadership.

After a quick clear-up of leaves and dead branches blown onto the site over the Christmas vacation, we got back to work in three active trenches. The first is a test pit, excavated to determine if there is a gravestone lying at the foot of George Watt’s 3 room plot. So far there isn’t, but we have worked through the usual layer of 1920’s rubble down onto a more earthy stratum of midden (rubbish) beneath.

On Saturday we recovered an interesting mix of human bone fragments and animal teeth, probably sheep.

Excavating and cleaning finds
Excavating and cleaning finds

Meanwhile, in the north-west corner, we continue to work on extending the trench to expose more of the wall-like structure that we assume was constructed to provide a secure foundation for a row of gravestones.

Extending a trench
Extending a trench

Here we found our first complete clay tobacco pipe bowl.

Bowl of clay tobacco pipe with leaf decoration
Bowl of clay tobacco pipe

Apparently some people would carry on smoking a pipe until there was almost none of the stem left before throwing it away, which is probably the case with this specimen. Cool isn’t it? The literature on pipe manufacture in Dunfermline doesn’t mention this model of pipe, so we have yet to identify the manufacturer.

Bowl of clay tobacco pipe with leaf decoration
Bowl of clay tobacco pipe with leaf decoration

Back down south, some of our Edinburgh University, Archaeological Society friends worked on the curbed grave. Access is not easy, as you can see. The area within the stone curb has been at least partially filled with a mix of clay, rubbish and bone fragments, both human and animal.

Working on the curb stone
Working on the curb stone

A fragment of humerus was recovered and cleaned.

Cleaning a bone fragment
Cleaning a bone fragment

We would have worked on our plan of the gravestones, but some fool forgot the tape and so the plane table was taken down again. Sorry about that.