The Graveyard

Planning the siteThe 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.

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 RoseSurprisingly, 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 here.

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.

Inevitably human remains are sometimes excavated, usually small bones and teeth, or broken larger bones, such as the lower jaw here. These scattered and anonymous fragments are the result of plot reuse over the centuries and landscaping in the 1920’s.

Fragment of lower jaw with unerrupted toothClearly human remains have not been respected particularly in the past. Once we have studied them, they are carefully reinterred as the trenches are backfilled.

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