The Graveyard

The Old Graveyard was in use from medieval times right up to the last years of the 19th century. It was finally closed to new burials when the stink of rotting corpses was so strong that it was thought to be too great a risk to public health to keep open.

Now, more than a century later, it is proving an unexpectedly exciting place to excavate and not at all smelly.

Dunfermline YAC working in the Abbey Graveyard
Dunfermline YAC working in the Abbey Graveyard

There are many lost gravestones that have sunk into the soggy soil, or been deliberately buried when the graveyard was levelled in the 1920’s. Rediscovering these missing pieces of Dunfermline’s past sheds light on beliefs and burial practices.

Porcelain Rose excavated from the graveyard
Porcelain Rose excavated from the graveyard

Surprisingly, there are many finds in the graveyard soil, from bricks and pottery to jumbled up bones and teeth, not all of them human. We have even found bits of early electrical wiring and the rose shown above.

A typical finds tray
A typical finds tray

There are plenty of different jobs to do. As well as excavating for gravestones, they are drawn, photographed and planned. The finds from around the stones are sorted by material, cleaned and recorded. Even the broken and jumbled bones and teeth have a story to tell.

Below is the tooth of a citizen of Dunfermline so badly decayed that it became infected and may even have killed its owner. At best it would have caused a lot of pain.

An example of tooth decay
An example of tooth decay

The graveyard site is like several great jigsaws, the pieces mixed together and half of them buried in the ground.