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.
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.
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 met in the relative warmth of the Scottish Fisheries Museum on Saturday. Our task was to continue processing bone fragments from the Dunfermline excavation.
The disturbance and study of human remains is an ethical nightmare for archaeology. Our excavation in the old Dunfermline Burgh graveyard hasn’t disturbed any intact burials and hopefully never will. The bone we find has already well churned and broken up by previous activities; reuse of burial plots and the great rubble laying event of the 1920’s.
Even so, we are obligated to treat human remains with respect and to reinter when we eventually backfill. Whether or not our study of these remains counts as treating with respect I am not completely sure, though it is certainly much less disrespectful than their past treatment within the graveyard.
We split into teams, each with a tray of unsorted, cleaned bone and began to sort. Henry had brought along two life-sized plastic skeletons to help us match fragments up with complete bones.
Even with the help of our plastic and very flexible friends identification proved tricky in some cases. We soon realised that there was animal bone mixed with the human bone, something we had noticed before in the graveyard. We tentatively identified cattle and chicken bone along with various other mystery creatures.
That said, with a bit of practise members were soon picking out the more easily identifiable fragments. That is not to say that certain individuals (especially leaders) got completely fixated with trying to identify a few of the strangest fragments.
We spent the second half of the session cleaning bone with toothbrushes and lolly sticks. We learned what it is to clean with luke-warm water and found it to be very good. It’ll to be tough going back to cold water.
The key to cleaning is to be gentle with the bone being worked on. Especially where the surface has gone, it is so easy to clean way parts of the bone itself.
The clean bones were placed in trays to be allowed to dry out before they too are sorted and added to the assemblage of bone ready for study.
Meanwhile, the sorted bone was bagged up and labelled, with one or two curiosities still being puzzled over when it was time to pack up and head off.
On Saturday September 9th YAC will be running the horse skeleton excavation activity as part of Horsepower at the Kelpies in Falkirk. We have borrowed several historic skeletons and one came packed in a cardboard box, completely unsorted.
Yesterday, Brodie, Chantelle, Kathryn, Michal, Nicoleta and Ronan came along to the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum for an hour, to pick through the bones and work out what we have and what’s missing.
As you can see, we have quite a bit of a skeleton, with quite a few of the long bones fragmented.
Thanks once more to the wonderful folk at the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum for making us so welcome!
Yet another busy meeting, with Alexander, Algirdas, Archie, Brian, Brodie, Katie, Michal, Nicoleta, Olivia, Ronan and Sienna making it along. Daniel and Andrew Bell tried their best to make it too, but alas, their car broke down en route.
It was a very different meeting to the usual sort. We were joined by Stuart of Youth 1st, who through activity, presentation and brainstorming got us all thinking about leadership in general and youth leadership in particular. Interested members will have the opportunity to join Youth 1st’s programme, with contemporaries from other youth groups, to undertake training and ultimately organise their own events intended to encourage young folk to lead more active lives.
After all that moving around and thinking, we stopped for a wee break and then got down to some therapeutic artefact cleaning. Three trays and a washing up bowl full of bone, pottery and glass (including a marble) were beautifully and carefully washed and laid out to dry, ready for sorting.