Kirkcaldy cists excavation

Addressing unpublished staff legacy excavations within Archaeology has prompted a number of new initiatives in learning, teaching and research. This includes the design and delivery of new modules with assignments in assessing assemblage significance and collection care. Using independent projects, dissertations and work-placements to progress unpublished excavations and avocational assemblages to full-publication, enhancing regional and national monuments records, and revitalising museum displays. Through a range of activities, unpublished legacy fieldwork projects and avocational archaeological collections are repurposed to enhance student skills in collection care, object management and offer experience in working with archaeological archives and assemblages.

Serving as a case study, one particular project Kirkcaldy High Street cists has offered the opportunity to explore how to more creatively engage with unpublished archaeological excavation backlog sites in order to realise benefits for undergraduate and postgraduate students, early career academics, and the public through the creation of novel civic collaborations through community partnership working and project research co-design.

Excavations on Kirkcaldy High Street

Rescue excavations in June 1980, directed by the late Dr Alex Morrison (a lecturer in Archaeology at The University of Glasgow), established the presence of damaged and disturbed short burial cists at 241-3 High Street, Kirkcaldy (NT 28125 91634; Canmore 52926), exposed during building demolition works and foundation clearance. At the time of the discovery, cist 1 was identified as a beaker burial in local media coverage, but it actually contained a different bronze age ceramic pot - a food vessel associated with the individual inhumation of an adult male accompanied by three lithic artefacts.

A second cist, cemented into later wall foundations, contained an inhumation burial and cremation deposits, sherds of later pottery and a piece of linoleum. A probable third cist, recorded in section only, was entirely built into a later wall. You can read more about the discovery of the site and the food vessel in a project blog (

The fieldwork was undertaken with a small team over two days between 12-13 June 1980, funded by Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland). The excavations were never fully published with only a short summary of the dig produced at that time. Initial post-excavation studies in the 1980s undertaken at the University of Glasgow included the reconstruction of the food vessel by Dr Jim Dickson (Botany), preliminary examination of the human remains by Dr Archie Young, (Anatomy) and reporting on the teeth by Dr Dorothy Lunt (Dentistry). While soil samples were processed and artefacts illustrated, no detailed analysis and reporting was undertaken.

In the 1980s most of the site archive and finds passed to Kirkcaldy Galleries (part of Fife Cultural Trust) where the food vessel was on public display for a number of years. Elements of the site archive and samples were retained in Archaeology at The University of Glasgow. In 2019, the site became part of a new Archaeology: Archives & Collections initiative to address unpublished legacy excavations. This began to piece together the history of the excavations starting with a student on the MSc Material Culture and Artefact Studies programme undertaking an independent project on the surviving archive at the University of Glasgow.

From 2021-23 a new project (PI: Dr Nyree Finlay), supported by Historic Environment Scotland and The University of Glasgow, is conducting a series of new post-excavation studies leading to publication of the Kirkcaldy cists excavation. This work has been undertaken alongside the design and delivery of an integrated series of public archaeology events: Digging Up Kirkcaldy’s Bronze Age Stories including pop-up exhibitions, specialist talks and creative workshops to generate research questions with and from the local community and record and explore other stories of the site. It has included interviews with people involved in the original excavation and new research assessments of other bronze age sites and prehistoric artefacts in the local area. The project has produced a new cycle and walking trail resource with local community partners to celebrate Kirkcaldy’s prehistoric heritage and to better promote place-making and sustainable tourism.

Digging Up Kirkcaldy’s Bronze Age Stories

Digging Up Kirkcaldy’s Bronze Age Stories is focused around capturing and sharing untold stories with the local community in Kirkcaldy, Fife that centres on an unpublished archaeological rescue excavation undertaken by The University of Glasgow in 1980 of Earlier Bronze Age cist burials on Kirkcaldy High Street. It is delivering a programme of events that uncovers these and other lost stories. A key aim is celebrating the discovery of the High Street cists and using it to promote other aspects of the hidden bronze age and urban heritage of Kirkcaldy though a new community cycle and walking trail resource, temporary exhibitions, public talks and creative workshop events.

So far the project has collected new oral histories including recollections of the original dig and found out new stories, shared by local residents, of some other local historic personalities and reconstructed building biographies of former homes and shops nearby.

The project draws on the excavated artefacts, like the Bronze Age ceramic food vessel to explore site-specific and object-focused stories in the distant and more recent past, as well as generating new and future ones via a series of public events delivered with local partners including Fife Cultural Trust, Kirkcaldy Civic Society, The Old Kirk Trust and Greener Kirkcaldy.

The project team at Archaeology, University of Glasgow [PI lead: Nyree Finlay] includes experienced staff and period-specialists, early career researchers, research affiliates, undergraduates, and post-graduate students. New specialist research running parallel with this project will see the open-source publication of the Kirkcaldy High Street excavations following a programme of HES grant-funded new analysis undertaken from May 2022-October 2023.

This project is supported by the University of Glasgow (College of Arts & Humanities, School of Humanities, Glasgow Knowledge Exchange Fund and Hunter-Marshall Bequest) and Historic Environment Scotland (HES).  

Digging Up Kirkcaldy’s Bronze Age Stories: Exhibition Pop-Up and Bike Back to the Bronze Age launch Event

The project is hosting an exhibition pop-up on the weekend of the 2-3 September 2023 (opening hours 10-4pm) at the start of Scottish Archaeology Month. The venue is located beside the original dig-site, upstairs at Kerry Photography (243 High Street, Kirkcaldy KY1 1JF. Exhibition entrance at the back via the Kirk Wynd and car park).

This free event is an opportunity to see and hear more about the original excavation, blether with some of the archaeological experts involved, view project displays, handle replicas, participate in craft activities, and find out more about the other prehistoric and bronze age discoveries in the town. There will be opportunities for members of the public to comment on plans and the content of a new information leaflet and online resource to support new walking and cycling routes and share their own stories of Kirkcaldy’s heritage.

As part of the event programme, the project will launch a new cycle route of Bronze Age sites in a family friendly ride-out ‘Bike to the Bronze Age’ event. Delivered by Greener Kirkcaldy, free places are limited and must be pre-booked (see for details). This cycle ride will visit the location of bronze age and other heritage sites researched as part of the project with an opportunity to see the original food vessel currently on display in Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Previous Events

Digging Up Kirkcaldy’s Bronze Age Stories: High Street Exhibition Pop-Up 2022

For Scottish Archaeology Month in September 2022, the project delivered a small pop-up photographic exhibition display on High Street Kirkcaldy together with Fife Cultural Trust. The exhibit took over the shop front of Kerry Photography, 243 High Street. The original Kirkcaldy cists rescue excavation in 1980 was located in what is now a car park to the rear of these premises. The exhibition comprised three images of the dig and five artefact images, four from the 1980s and a more recent shot of the food vessel during conservation by The Scottish Conservation Studio. As well as a call-out for further information and local memories of the dig site, the exhibition celebrated the display of the newly-conserved and reconstructed food vessel at Kirkcaldy Galleries in Autumn 2022 thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Members of the Old Kirk Trust put together their display of local bronze age sites in the Old Kirk during September 2022 that included photographs and information about the original dig-site.

A museum blog by bronze age ceramic specialist Dr Marta Innes, was created to tell the story of the food vessel and background to its discovery. This University news article highlights the redisplay of the newly-reconstructed food vessel that was widely reported in the national press.

[image: Site and artefact images copyright: Fife Cultural Trust (OnFife) on behalf of Fife Council and The University of Glasgow]

Digging Up Kirkcaldy’s Bronze Age Stories: Mini-conference and creative workshop 26 November 2022

This free event took place at Kirkcaldy Galleries in partnership with Fife Cultural Trust (

It comprised a morning of short specialist talks on the research undertaken by the project to date by four speakers and members of the project team: Nyree Finlay, Paul Duffy, Marta Innes, and Olivia Ballard. Information from a local resident who got in touch after the pop-up photographic exhibition in September 2022 helped recreate a building biography of the dig site and a property once owned by  a relative.

This was followed by a drop-in creative workshop in the afternoon (12.30-2pm) delivered by Dr Marta Innes and Olivia Ballard which was geared at kids and adults around bronze age craft and design which was also attended by members of the Kirkcaldy Galleries sewing circle. An integral element of the day event was the ongoing recreation of Bronze age clothing by MSc Material Culture & Artefact Studies recent graduate Olivia Ballard which will be part of further outreach and legacy planned for the project.

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