Tag Archives: Finds

The value of bone

Bone has been used from prehistory for carving both useful and decorative items because it is readily available and easy to work with, yet durable when finished. However, bone does not survive in acid soils, so finding carved bone objects in an archaeological dig is exciting. Quite a number of carved bone items were found during the archaeological dig below the former East Kirk, which included some utilitarian items such as part of a comb. Other items were more interesting.

Post 11 Carved bone object - possible bible marker

The first illustration is a drawing, taken from the original in order to show the detail of the carving on both sides. The item has been broken at the bottom so exactly how long it was, or what it was used for, is uncertain. Given the context of a church, one possibility is that it was the ‘weighted end’ of a ribbon book mark, perhaps for marking a passage in a Bible.

Post 11 Bone gaming piece

The second item, however, is not exactly what would be expected in a church – a gaming piece! Indeed this was not the only distinctly secular item found – for example a number of small dice (about 3 or 4 mm only) was also found below what was in later years the kitchen. The rest is left to the imagination!!

During the archaeological excavation a large number of artefacts were uncovered. These require detailed study, evaluation and conservation. This costs money, but unless it is done there is a danger that they will be lost through deterioration. It is proposed to share some of the other artefacts through these posts over time.

The photographs are copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections and are used with permission.

The second scallop shell found

The photograph is copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections and are used with permission.

About 2 months after the first scallop shell had been found a second one was found in a burial. The photograph, courtesy of the Aberdeen City Council Archaeology Unit, shows that this scallop shell was located over the left thigh. It was customary to sew the shell to a leather satchel hanging from the waist over the left leg, so this man was buried wearing the leather satchel bearing the scallop shell. The leather has not survived the centuries, but the shell has. That he was buried wearing this also indicates the importance which people placed on these pilgrimage tokens.


Scallop Shell Pilgrim Token

Coutesy Aberdeen City Council Archaeology Unit

The photograph is copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections and are used with permission.

St James one of Jesus’ twelve apostles died about AD 44, perhaps the first Christian martyr. Tradition says his remains were taken by boat and buried in northern Spain – in Santiago de Compestella. A Cathedral was built on the site which became a major destination for pilgrims – which it remains today. Scallop shells are commonly found on the seashore in the area. Because of some reputed miracles, they became a symbol of pilgrimage to St James’ remains. There were different routes for the pilgrimage, but the minimum walk was of 60 miles. People who completed it would acquire a scallop shell as a token. During the archaeological dig four scallop shells were found. The first one found was not with any particular burial – perhaps the actual burial had been disturbed during preparations for a later burial. The picture shows this scallop shell. The two holes drilled in the shell allowed it to be sewn onto a garment. These finds show that people from Aberdeen were making that pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestella more than 500 years ago. Quite an undertaking!