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.
Trench 3 (east extension)
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?
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.
In a Far Corner of Trench 9
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
One day we’ll come across the Dunfermline Graveyard equivalent to this recent photograph from Pompeii.
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.
Here are some photos of YAC members sieving their hearts out. As the soil dries out sieving becomes both easier and more productive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here we found our first complete clay tobacco pipe bowl.
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.
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.
A fragment of humerus was recovered and cleaned.
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.
We met one last time on the 23rd at the Scottish Fisheries Museum. Just a few members made it so close to Christmas: Andrew, Campbell, Daniel, Elspeth, Fraser and Keziah.
We sorted and cleaned bone excavated in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard, helped again by Skelly and Stan.
It’s fine for Skelly, he lies on his back the whole time, but poor Stan hangs around, standing for the entire two hours, being poked about by YAC members.
We sorted trays of clean, dry bone fragment by type and then bagged them up. Inevitably we were left with a small number of unidentified specimens, some of which are likely to turn out to be animal. We were pretty sure that there were at least bits of chicken and pig bone to add to a growing assemblage of non-human bone.
At the other end of the table a group of cleaners got on with that. We have excavated a lot of broken glass over the months, much of it thick, bottle glass. Some is just plain, but other pieces are coated in a gold paint of some sort.
This tends to come away very easily, especially when the glass is wet, so we cleaned gently with damp toothbrushes.
We also got on with cleaning some of the smaller bone fragments that we have excavated over the last few months. Some of these pieces will be too fragmented and damaged to identify, but there are likely to be more teeth, smaller human bones such as distal phalanges, and animal bones amongst them.
We released our herd of archaeologists into a small reserve in Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard (Fig. 1) on Saturday, really just to get an idea of just how well they will settle into a purpose built facility. Aisling took all of the photographs you see below.
The enclosure is small, but carefully designed to keep archaeologists of all ages engaged and interested, encouraging them to behave as they would in the wild. While this approach to conservation remains controversial, it does allow members of the public to observe natural behaviour at close quarters and perhaps come to appreciate and better-understand these colourful creatures before it is too late.
In common with other species dependent on a largely beer-based diet, adult archaeologists spend much of their time resting. Even so, some inquisitive individuals took an interest in the camera (Fig. 2) and even seemed to perform to it on occasion.
A real test of the purpose-built environment came when we added a new individual into the group (Fig. 3). With plenty of room to excavate quietly, the newcomer was soon joined by both adult and juvenile archaeologists, and accepted as a member of herd.
In Figure 4 we see an example of how members of the herd began to modify elements of the environment to make it more to their liking. This adult is extending a trench, probably in the hope of exposing more of a wall-like feature that could be seen in the trench edge.
The archaeological young are generally more active and playful than the adults, perhaps in part thanks to a sugar-rich diet. At this age, whilst they are keen to explore, the spoil heap seems to have a special attraction (Fig. 5).
Figures 6 and 7 illustrate a common archaeological parenting strategy. Supervised by one or more of the adults, these vulnerable juvenile archaeologists remain safely concealed in small test pits about 1.5m square. Here they develop the trowelling skills they will come to rely on when fully grown.
The herd takes communal responsibility for the young, allowing parents to leave the group to go on extended foraging trips. In Figure 8 an adult, probably a male, has adopted the “crouched pose”; showing to the herd that he is watching over one of the youngsters.
Note how the adult has removed a glove and displays his bare hand. We believe this is intended to reassure the young archaeologist, perhaps indicating that the adult is not a threat and will not steal any finds.
The classic behaviour that everyone hopes to witness is the excavation of a find, followed by excited examination and sharing. Research has exposed as myth the old idea that archaeologists will only respond to centuries old artefacts. Whilst it is true that individuals often show clear preferences, we now know that any old tat will do, even old crisp packets or juice cans, just so long as artefacts are recovered by excavation.
In this sequence of photos we observe several find-related behaviours. First, the almost ecstatic response of an individual to even a small and quite rubbishy find (Fig. 9).
Next, comes the “putting it back together” behaviour (Fig. 10). This can sometimes occupy small groups of specialist archaeologists for months or even years.
Finally we see evidence of the first stage of finds hoarding (Fig. 11), with artefacts brought together in protective, tray-like receptacles. This preliminary stage is often followed by cleaning, sorting and bagging of related finds together. Eventually most finds are deposited in large boxes and hoarded for many years. As with many aspects of archaeologist behaviour, we still have no idea what lies behind these complex, almost ritualistic, behaviours.
Along side the exposure of old bits of structure and the recovery of artefacts, archaeologists like to draw the things they find. To this end they have developed complex, symbiotic relationships with otherwise inanimate species such as the plane table, alidade and tripod (Fig. 12 and 13).
Again, these little studied behaviours have an almost ritualistic quality to them, but presumably provided some evolutionary advantage in the past, before much of these creatures’ habitat was lost.
It would be misleading to suggest that our experiment in Dunfermline was an unqualified success. We observed some aggressive behaviour in the bearded archeologist (Fig. 14). Perhaps with a little more space and access to a confectioner who stocks chewing gum, this outburst might have been avoided. Fortunately none of the young were injured.
A less obvious negative behaviour was observed in a young member of the herd (Fig. 15). His dance-like moves have only been observed in archaeologists in captivity. They are thought to indicate rising stress, here caused by a lack of spoil-filled buckets to sieve. A slight adjustment to the environment might be all that is needed to restore balance.
There were miscalculations setting up the spoil heap area of the enclosure. The young archaeologist in Figure 16 spent an extended time at the summit. Descending too quickly, she suffered the archaeological equivalent of the bends and spent several minutes in painful spasm. She recovered quickly and is none the worse for her experience, but we will need to knock a few centimetres from the spoil heap to avoid a repetition.
The most surprising behaviour was witnessed in one of the adults. At first glance the archaeologist in Figure 17 seems to be excavating quite contentedly. In reality she is digging an escape tunnel, demonstrating a hitherto unexpected intelligence.
All in all, the brief trial proved to be a useful exercise. We were able to observe some characteristic archaeological behaviours at close quarters. Most of the herd took well to their temporary home, despite the exceptions outlined above. With lessons learnt and a deeper appreciation of these remarkable creatures gained, the next step is to make a few adjustments to the enclosure and then to reintroduce the archaeologists for a more extended period, perhaps overnight.
It is premature to claim that our brief experiment has answered the many criticisms of members of those who claim that it is simply not possible to devise an archaeological environment both humane and confined (Fig. 18). However, it is difficult to deny the promise shown by the Dunfermline experience.
To continue our occasional series, we’ll take a look at activities intended to chill the extremities without excessive risk of hypothermia.
Archaeological fieldwork presents many opportunities to get cold. Our own efforts to feel the chill have mostly taken place in the old town graveyard beside Dunfermline Abbey. It’s a great spot; north facing and sheltered from the sun for much of the year. That said, you can try out the ideas described below on almost any dig site in Scotland.
Sieving cold, wet soil
A great activity, almost guaranteed to chill the feet, is sieving. If you forget your gloves, or they get damp from poking about in the wet soil, cold hands are a fairly safe bet too.
Ideally you’ll be so absorbed in hunting for bits of bone, rusty nails and the like that you won’t notice the chill gradually extending from the tips of your toes and fingers, till you have achieved the dull ache of the uncomfortably cold.
If you must wear gloves, remember to keep them thin, ideally made of acrylic and very pervious. All the while, remain as still as you can. Unfortunately one of the “cool” team will have to warm up collecting buckets of soil from the trenches, but the rest of you will be satisfyingly icy in no time.
Some of you will have to excavate in order to generate the raw material for sieving. Try to avoid any unnecessary mattocking or shovelling, you will stand little chance of achieving a sustainable, cold temperature. If you really must, then you could try wearing far-too-warm clothes. Build up an unhealthy sweat that you can exploit to achieve rapid chilling. Just strip off a layer or two once done shovelling and switch to sieving. The problem comes in trying to limit the inevitable temperature drop to your hands and feet.
Even when trowelling, there is a natural and regrettable tendency to settle into a work rate sufficiently vigorous to prevent cooling of the hands. We are also encouraged to kneel on protective and, alas, insulating mats. You will really have to keep to a slow trowelling rhythm with frequent pauses, perhaps with the palms of your hands pressed against the cold earth.
As trenches get deep enough to enter you will encounter a further obstacle to achieving a decent drop in temperature, as you become increasingly sheltered from the chilling wind.
Notice in the next photo how the experienced leader crouches on her mat, maximising surface area exposed to the cold wind. The posture stretches the knees of her trousers tight against her legs, so minimising their insulating properties. To balance, her bare fingers are pressed against a cold, damp gravestone. By contrast the inexperienced YAC member is unnecessarily well sheltered and relies on remaining as still as possible and the advantage of small size.
Below the group is joined by another YAC member. She has already learned to keep her head above trench height and to remove her hood.
Our next photograph demonstrates mixed success. True the YAC’ers have bare heads above the tench sides, but they are far too close to each other to lose heat effectively and they were working far more quickly than they needed.
Finally, we observe two members keeping out of the trench and so exposed to the chill breeze. Both have bare heads and one has given up a kneeling posture in order to maximise cooling to the feet.
An activity that could have been purpose-designed to make hands cold! It allows the planners to stand quite still for long periods, it is easier to draw without gloves, the ranging rod is metal, so fingers tend to get cold even with gloves on and the more people involved, the less each has to do and the more standing around in the cold there is! Finally, every mistake can end in remeasuring and drawing, so rewarding sloppy work and careful checking.
The Building Site Strategy
Lastly lets take a look at a technique borrowed, like so much in archaeological fieldwork, from the building industry. Studies have conclusively demonstrated that a thing archaeologists enjoy even better than actually doing fieldwork is to stand around discussing it. We at YAC have a huge advantage over the grownups here: we can’t stand around for hours at a time in the archaeologist’s natural habitat, the pub across the road.
This strategy works well with bare hands; ideally out of pockets and used gently to add emphasis, or to point at things. Try to stand in as chilly a spot as you can, ideally in a cold puddle, without unnecessary toe movement.
You will probably be wondering how the old chap on the left expects to get cold hands while holding what looks like a hot, takeaway coffee. What you can’t see is that the coffee has been left to stand long enough to go quite cold. This experienced old codger is exploiting extreme feelings of guilt that force him to finish the icy beverage, thoughtfully purchased as it was by an esteemed colleague.
I can’t over-emphasise enough just how incredibly important it is to be as tiny, small as you can manage, for these and all other cold inducing activities. Poor circulation is also a great boon and simply achieved by the over-committed.
Our photos this week were taken mostly by Olivia and Aisling. Not only did they do a fantastic job, but they achieved impressively cold hands, especially Olivia, who held the camera with a metal body.
Here are a few of the portrait shots they took of certain leaders, included here as a warning to us all.
And Finally …
A fantastic turnout today, plenty of “old hands” and four new members too! Everyone worked wonderfully, rewarding us (alas, not till all the YAC members had gone home) with the revelation of most of the top of the southern gravestone! Well done to everyone who contributed to it’s exposure. Clearly we have another double, with no inscription, at least on the top surface. Invisible ink? Evidence of a secret society in 19th century Dunfermline?