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.

Picking some bones with you

We have been very slow to add new posts since the early summer, so to make it up to you here are some images of bone and teeth for you to answer questions about.

You should be able to find the answers by searching the Web and some of you probably already know the answers from listening to Rob and Henry. If you want to you can write answers in the comments at the bottom.

Also, if you click on an image a larger version should be loaded into your browser.

1.

No prizes for recognising that we have some teeth of varying size and shape here.

We can see that each tooth has the whiter, bitier part of the top, and the long, darker bit below.

What material is the top bit made of? What is the bottom part of the tooth called?

What’s up with the third tooth from the left? It looks as though something has taken a bite out of it. What do you think has actually happened?


2.

Next comes a bone with a big hole in the middle and smaller ones either side. Notice the four pads between each of the little holes and the big hole.

Any idea what bone it is and what the holes are for. Probably not ventilation is my guess.


3.

Here is a much more straight forward bone.  It doesn’t look quite right though does it?.

What do you think has happened to the bone? Did it get like this while its person was still alive and using it, or after they died and rotted away?

Whereabouts in the body is the bone  from? How many of these bones are we usually blessed with do you think?

My guess is at least seven, but I could be mistaken.


4.

Radii fragments from graveyard

Finally there are three broken bones. Can you see that the unbroken ends at the left are all strikingly similar to each other?

Do you think they all came from the same skeleton?

How much longer do you think the complete bones might have been and where in the body did they come from?

What is the name of this bone do you think?

Excavating Henry at the Helix

Saturday was the day to celebrate equine heritage at the Helix in Falkirk. Whilst there were dozens of live horses knocking about all day long, we offered visitors unprecedented access to the bones of dead horses.

Buried in 20cm of lovely top soil, contained in custom made raised dig-pits, Henry and friends just laid back and waited for excavati

on, on the hour, every hour. They remained calm and relaxed the whole day long, without even a hint of a bite or a kick. I think they relished the attention.

Every YAC member, parent and leader who gave up time to help out worked hard to make visitors welcome and ensure they had a great experience. So thanks to everyone who contributed and to everyone who came to join in the fun.

Henry, relaxing in an earth bath
Henry, relaxing in an earth bath

YAC activity across the water
YAC activity across the water

The Dunfermline Abbey Marbles

The Dunfermline Marbles

On the Web for the first time, the fragments of two marbles found by YAC member Ryan whilst sieving spoil from the graveyard excavation. I suppose they were most likely mixed with the demolition material used as fill in 1927, already broken and discarded.

The Dunfermline Marbles
The Dunfermline Marbles

There was also this rather nice shell fossil found along with mixed human and animal bones last Saturday.

The tiny fossil of a tiny shell
The tiny fossil of a tiny shell

Graveyard Dig Day 33

Happy diggers, doing that thing.

A wee bit chilly, but pleasantly bright, no rain and the ground is actually drying out a bit in the trenches we are excavating in the graveyard. The first of our Easter sessions was a very jolly affair; we were joined by Alexander, The Bell Brothers Two, Douglas, Lee, new member Keziah and special-guest for the afternoon; Alis.

Happy diggers, doing that thing.
Happy diggers, doing that thing.

Bottom edge of gravestone revealed!
Bottom edge of gravestone revealed!

The focus for most of us was very much on bottom edges. Several of the gravestones we have found have not been excavated to their full depth yet, something we aim to put right forthwith. New leader Rob worked with Daniel and Andrew in “the enormous trench with the tiny stone” while Laura, Lee, Keziah and Alis worked in the “pirate” trench.

Meanwhile Alexander and Naomi worked all by themselves, exiled to the south east corner trench, to bottom out the rubble layer that was dumped in the 1920’s.

Is this a rose I see?
Is this a rose I see?

The drying soil made finds easier to spot and quite a few bone fragments and teeth came up around the gravestones. Meanwhile Alexander and Naomi were finding bricks, pottery fragments and ceramic roses. Douglas was kept busy for much of the time carefully cleaning the more delicate of the finds with toothbrushes and cocktail sticks (just to show how sophisticated we are).

This is definitely a rose
This is definitely a rose

The excitement culminated in Alexander’s discovery of the rim of an upright plant pot at the very base of the rubble, disappearing into the graveyard soil. He, Douglas and Lee excavated it between them, so next time we will excavate the soil within.

"Trowel and Pot Rim" Still Life, 2017
“Trowel and Pot Rim” Still Life, 2017

Roses, plant pot? Are we coming upon graveside decor or domestic rubbish?

Graveyard Dig – Day 30

Small, ornamental, ceramic dog found during graveyard dig

No digging to day, out in the cold and wet and windy, instead we worked in the warmth of the Cairneyhill Scout Hall, making a start on cleaning the finds from this season’s dig. With Aisling, Kathryn, Katie, Lee, Olivia, Ryan and Sienna (who lets her dad Pete join in a bit) all working hard we made a very good start.

We used old toothbrushes and warm water to gently wash away the graveyard dirt. Most of the finds were ceramic and glass, with some metal; nails and the like, and a few bit of human and animal bone.

Busy washing finds
Busy washing finds

Find cleaning in progress. Toothpicks ready, just in case
Find cleaning in progress. Toothpicks ready, just in case

There was this funny little fellow and another ornamental animal with just legs surviving. This chap has a flat back so we guess must have been attached to something. Today I would have guessed a fridge magnet, but the latest this is likely to have ended up in the ground was 1927, so not likely.

Small, ornamental, ceramic dog found during graveyard dig
Our doggie find

Naomi explains
Naomi explains. I wonder what?

Old toothbrushes are great for cleaning ceramics
Old toothbrushes are great for cleaning ceramics

The two photos below show most of the finds cleaned this afternoon. Bits of plate, cup or jug; oyster shells, broken beer bottles, the stems of clay tobacco pipes, nails and a few bits of bone, some of which had probably been mistaken for muddy pottery on site. A strange mix of little bits of people and little bits of people’s lives, all jumbled together in the soil of Dunfermline waiting for us to find and clean and record.

More finds drying
More finds drying

Clean finds drying
Clean finds drying

Graveyard Dig 2016 – Day 7

Alexander and Naomi pretending to work so I can take an action photo

We have been so fortunate with the weather this week. Dry, warm weather with a bit of a breeze dries out the gravestones we have revealed and gives us a chance to get them nice and clean. Only then can we see fully any surviving inscriptions and other carving.

Be that as it may, it gets a bit hot when you are deturfing and backfilling. Dougie and I did a far bit of that this morning while the YAC members got on with the interesting work. Alexander and Naomi uncovered the stone that we found last thing yesterday. I was expecting a mighty stone that had once stood tall in the graveyard, so I had extended the trench accordingly. What was uncovered was actually quite petite.

Alexander and Naomi uncovered a tiny gravestone in an enormous trench
Alexander and Naomi uncovered a tiny gravestone in an enormous trench

The master diggers made excellent progress over the day. Alexander was a bit reluctant to leave, even when I promised not to look at the other side of the stone until he arrives tomorrow.

Alexander and Naomi pretending to work so I can take an action photo
Alexander and Naomi pretending to work so I can take an action photo

Alexander's stone looking blank
Alexander’s stone looking blank

As you can see, the upward face is quite smooth. Tomorrow we will lift it to see if there is any inscription on the other side. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile in the “Trench of Many Stones”, Erin was getting on with tidying up  so that the edges of each stone can be seen clearly. This is painstaking, but not terribly exciting work, but the results make it all worthwhile. Erin didn’t even want to stop for lunch, so the rest of us just watched her, munching our sandwiches. She did have her lunch eventually, after which she got on with carefully clearing the mud off our coat-of-arms stone and starting to reveal some detail that had not been before.

Erin carefully scrapes the compacted mud from one of the prettier stones
Erin carefully scrapes the compacted mud from one of the prettier stones

The pretty stones posing for the camera
The pretty stones posing for the camera

The stone Erin has been working on begins to give up its muddy secrets
The stone Erin has been working on begins to give up its muddy secrets

The decorative elements of this fragment start to become clearer
The decorative elements of this fragment start to become clearer

Meanwhile Dougie was working away in his own private DHCP trench, uncovering a stone that is small, very thick, at a difficult angle and partially obscured by thick roots (until this afternoon). Again there is no inscription on the upward face, but we should be able to flip it eventually to see what lies on the hidden side.

Dougie practising his speed trowelling
Dougie practising his speed trowelling.

Dougie's stone is small, but very thick
Dougie’s stone is small, but very thick

 

 

It’s a New Improved Dunfermline YAC! (with added fibre and not many artificial colours)

Dunfermline YAC has finally, finally finished the transition from a club merely affiliated to the global YAC empire, to that of a fully signed up branch. This makes absolutely no difference at all to members, except that we don’t have to close down, so that’s a good thing. Probably.

Last Saturday was our first meeting since January and our numbers were quite literally increased by two, as new members Katie and Lee, joined Andrew, Daniel and Algirdas for a spot of getting unnecessarily covered in air-drying clay.

Ushabti and their box
Ushabti live in boxes

For the first time we spent some time considering the archaeology of death somewhere other than Scotland. Last time we looked at the pottery vessels that Bronze Age Scots liked to bury with their dead (we did, honest) and this time we had a look at some of the things that ancient Egyptians enjoyed entombing with their deceased.

We began with some research into ushabti figurines; little people made of clay or wood, intended to do the work of the dead in the afterlife. These are found in pretty much all Egyptian graves, from those of pharaohs to the lowliest peasant and have survived in their thousands. If you want to see a few you can do worse that have a look a the collections housed by the British Museum in London and the National Museums Scotland. Confusingly the BM call the figures ushabti while the NMS calls them shabti. 

The ancient Egyptians believed that the afterlife was actually pretty much the same as life. The dead still had to eat and sleep and so forth. Therefore some of the dead had to build houses, grow crops and do all the other myriad jobs that had been necessary in life. For most people this just meant business as usual, but if you had been rich in life, the idea that you might be expected to do menial, manual jobs in death did not appeal.

Ushabti Figure
A posh ushabti

Luckily the clever Egyptians developed a solution to the problem. Get yourself some ushabti figures and use magic to make them volunteer to do the work allotted to you in the afterlife. Ushabti figures usually have a spell engraved on them with the name of their dead person and an instruction to do their work. The brilliance of the solution was that anyone could afford it, rich and poor alike. So every Egyptian could look forward to a death of ease in the afterlife, until future generations started pinching their ushabti figures that is.

Lots of ushabti are made of clay, so we all went through some reference books, came up with ushabti designs and had a go at making our own figures.We also tried dung beetles and hippos, both firm favourites with the ancient Egyptians, but more for the living than the dead. Most of us took our raw, still soft ushabti figures home to dry and hopefully to beautify.

Bell brothers at work
Bell brothers at work.

Charlotte waves her hands at Lee, Katy and Morven like the mad person she is.
Charlotte waves her hands at Lee, Katie and Morven like the mad person she is.

Algirdas pointing
Algirdas pointing. At what I do not know.

Everyone
Everyone experiencing various levels of enjoyment.

Assorted Hippo's. We were getting tired by then
Assorted Hippos. We were getting tired by then.

Three unpainted ushabti figures
Small selection of raw ushabti figures

 

 

YAC Graveyard Dig – Days 11 and 12

Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded Trench Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded Trench Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded Trench Lots of YAC members working away in a crowded TrenchI was tired last night and fell asleep before I could get round to writing up Saturday’s YAC activities in the graveyard. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Anyway, I am just back from the Sunday session and will delay no longer.

Saturday was busy. A new member, Andrew joined us for the first time, while Morven, one of our leaders, brought her younger brother, Alasdair along to see how he would enjoy himself. Both made excellent starts to their archaeological careers. Experienced members Erin and Algirdas helped to welcome the boys and get them started.

We focused on finishing revealing our third stone and better defining the edges of the other two stones, now they are further from the cutting edge. As well as the usual nails, glass and pottery, a number of fragments of electrical wiring were discovered. It is interesting that electrical materials were already being disposed of by 1930, perhaps as parts of demolished buildings?

The third gravestoneAs you can see, the third stone is slightly longer than its immediate
neighbour. At first sight there seems to be no inscription or decoration on the stone. We will reserve judgement until it has dried off and been brushed clean. The surface is far from flat, which might be a sign that there is more to be discovered on Carved standing stonethis stone.

Annoyingly our blank, flat stone hides quite a bit of the standing stone abutting it’s western edge. We can see some badly worn carving, but nothing else. Yet.

Finally I will just mention the tremendous amount of interest and encouragement our young archaeologists have received from visitors. We are now used to people staring for a while and then walking up to ask what on earth we are doing. They are always fascinated by the project and impressed at amount the young archaeologists have achieved.

Just this weekend we talked to Visitors to the digmore than 60 people of all ages, from all around the world about the project and what has been discovered so far. In fact, we didn’t get as much work done today as we had hoped. That said, there would be little point to the project if we didn’t share our findings with folk who show an interest, and its always a two-way conversation.