With some of this year’s students arrived and settled into Pittencrieff House we spent the day preparing the Abbey Graveyard site for the first field school, which starts tomorrow.
It rained, something that hasn’t happened much for weeks. At least everyone has had a fairly authentic Scottish excavation experience now. Obviously strong winds and significantly lower temperatures would have helped, but we can’t really complain.
Our main intention was to tidy up the trenches, cleaning out leaves and twigs, straightening out section edges.
Even with the rain the graveyard soil is still drier than it has been in months. This led us to adopt an unusual sieving policy; with every bucket of spoil being sieved as we worked. This didn’t slow us down too much and returned far more small finds than we would otherwise have retrieved.
Fife Council has very generously given us use of the GlassRoom in Pittencrieff Park during the field school. As well as being a great place to have lunch in the rain, we will use it as our base for finds processing and workshops.
Despite the weather we actually achieved a lot today. Students are familiar with the site now and it is ready for the first field school participants.
Last weekend Young Archseologist’s Club met in the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther to clean and sort a range of recent finds from the graveyard. The following images typify some of the more substantial finds. All were recovered scattered across the site within graveyard soil that included a range of other finds that included fragments of clay tobacco pipe, glass, industrial waste (slag), iron nails and handles.
The vertebra below sits at the top of the cervix (neck). It was the most complete part of an assemblage of broken bone recovered from fill next to a low pedestal probably intended as a stabilising foundation for an upright, no longer present, gravestone.
As ever, teeth are over represented in osteological remains. These were recovered from sieved spoil. Over the last few weeks the dryness of the soil has increased the rate of recovery of smaller finds and so we have been sieving 100% of spoil. These teeth represent the smaller fraction of finds that display evidence of pathology other than simple wear to enamel caused by grit in food.
Just to wet appetites, here are some finds from the last week.
Here we see disarticulated bone, disturbed by grave-reuse and redeposited as backfill. We can see further fragmentation of already broken bone situated beside a complete vertebra. These are fairly typical finds. It is not unusual to find small amounts of animal bone mixed with human remains.
Many artefacts recovered from the graveyard were most likely deliberate deposits of rubbish, either as part of the introduction of rubble from a demolished building in the 1920’s or the historic equivalent of fly-tipping by Dunfermline residents.
The find below was found in a graveyard soil context, and so predates the 1920’s rubble. It is a fragment of a circular stone object, with the centre drilled out. Given Dunfermline’s history as a centre for the spinning and weaving of high quality linen, it seems reasonable to believe that it may have been a loom weight or similar.
Lastly comes an iron object, a rusted and broken handle. It too comes from a pre-1927 context and is interpreted as a coffin handle. Most ferrous artefacts have been nails and handles of varying sizes, often with significant accretions of soil and stone caused by rusting in the often waterlogged soil of the graveyard.