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Whilst farthings had been withdrawn from circulation before I was born, I do remember sweets being sold two for a ha’penny (half a penny), and so had presumably been priced one a farthing not so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