2018 Field School Gets Ready

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
It Rained

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.

Lying down on the job
Reaching a tricky bit

Our main intention was to tidy up the trenches, cleaning out leaves and twigs, straightening out section edges.

Sieving in the mud
Sieving in the less muddy mud

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.

Lunch in the GlassRoom
Lunch in the GlassRoom

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.

Enthusiasm Undimmed
Enthusiasm Undimmed

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.

Cleaned finds from the graveyard

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.

Atlas vertebra (C1) from graveyard
Atlas vertebra (C1), posterior up, from graveyard

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.

Selection of diseased teeth from graveyard
Selection of diseased teeth from graveyard

The patela below shows signs of wear

Left patella, anterior, from graveyard
Left patella, anterior, superior up, from graveyard
Selection of Radii fragments from graveyard
Selection of Radii fragments from graveyard


Recent Finds from Dunfermline Abbey Graveyard

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.

Atlas vertebra (C1) and bone fragments
Atlas vertebra (C1) and bone fragments

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.

Possible broken, stone loom weight
Is this a broken loom weight?

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.

Rusted and Broken Iron Handle
Rusted and broken iron handle