Dunfermline YAC: Graveyard Dig 2016 – Erin Explains All
We've just finished work on Day 17 of our Dunfermline Abbey graveyard dig... As always we had a lot of interest in what we are doing from people who were visiting the abbey and graveyard. People often ask what we are doing, and why kids are doing it! Others are interested because they see all of the gravestones. I don’t think people understand what is on their doorstep. People are amazed that children can get involved with archaeology and are surprised about the project. They often have lots of questions, so here is a little bit of the history as to why we are doing the dig and what we find.
About Dunfermline Abbey graveyard
The graveyard has been in use for about 800 years and there are records that show by the mid-1600s the Kirkyard had become very marshy and swampy and would flood during heavy rain. All of this water resulted in the ground becoming uneven and caused some of the gravestones to sink. Over a number of years drainage works were carried out, and this appears to have sorted the problem. Records also show that the Kirk Session had ordered that all headstones had to be laid flat on the ground as they thought it would be easier to carry bodies through the Kirkyard to where they were to be buried. Maybe this was also an indication of how uneven the ground was at this time. This rule of having flat stones continued until 1869.
In 1927 the graveyard superintendent got material to level the Kirkyard from a site in Dunfermline. From our dig, it would appear that this material was mostly rubbish with pieces of roof tiles, rubble, glass and broken pottery with pockets of oyster shells and ash from fires. Maybe in 1927 they were not concerned about preserving history as they just covered over any gravestones that were below the level which they filled to.
About our YAC project in the graveyard
Our project is to try and find the gravestones that had been covered, so that we can record the stones and have some research done to find out more about the people buried in the graveyard.
As we dig to find the stones, we get lots of great finds from all the rubbish that has been used to fill in the graveyard. We find lots of small items such as clay pipe stems, buttons and even a thimble. As we are in a graveyard we also come across lots of bones and teeth! This gives us a chance to look at the diets of the people who died and also look for any diseases or malnutrition as they show in the bones (find out more about the bones and teeth in YAC member Alexander's blog post).
We do not just dig! We have to catalogue and bag our finds, photograph the gravestones that we discover, and also draw plans of the site so that in the future we know where all the stones are. This is because once we are finished, all the soil has to be returned and the stones will be covered once more.
Archaeology and local history is good fun. I really enjoy learning about history and of course love digging – and so does everyone else from Dunfermline YAC. I hope the project will go on for a long time into the future as it gets kids like me out of the house and away from the gadgets. It also means we can contribute to discovering local history and get to share it with everyone. I really enjoy coming to YAC!
Blog by Erin, Dunfermline YAC member
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