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Whilst farthings had been withdrawn from circulation before I was born, I do remember sweets being sold two for a ha’penny (half a penny), and so had presumably been priced one a farthing not so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.

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?

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?

Archaeology Family Fun Day

Small People Hunting for Small Bones

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.

The YAC Table
The YAC Table, Spot Cassidy with the Horse Bones

Small People Hunting for Small Bones
The YAC Floor: Small People Hunting for Small Bones

Some Archaeological Science
Some Archaeological Science

Pinning Bones onto a Skeleton
Pinning Bones onto a Skeleton

Treasure in the Sands
Treasure in the Sands

More Bones
More Bones

Stone Age in a Metal Box
Archaeology Scotland’s Stone Age in a Metal Box

Bronze Age in a Box
and Bronze Age in a Steel Box

Faces Painted
Faces Painted

Loyal Face Paint
A Source of Inspiration

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.