Digging for clues to North Berwick's past

HISTORIC relics from one of the first settlements at North Berwick are being unearthed at a new archaeological dig.

The excavation is taking place on the site of a future extension to the Scottish Seabird Centre at the town’s harbour.

It follows on from a dig held four years ago which uncovered skeletal remains, including those of a murder victim, on the site of the old St Andrew’s Kirk graveyard, which is next to the centre.

And archaeologists working on the new site say it may contain even more fascinating artefacts than those previously uncovered.

Trial digs were carried out on the site last week in advance of the major excavation, and the suggestions were that the dig could yield significant finds. And the team have already uncovered evidence of an early settlement, with walls and pits slowly taking shape.

A spokeswoman from Historic Scotland said the dig could uncover the earliest evidence yet found of the area’s past.

"Archaeologists have now discovered wall footings, pits and buried surfaces underneath the existing medieval cemetery at Anchor Green," she said. "This exciting archaeology project could provide the earliest evidence so far of the beginnings of North Berwick."

The harbour is the historic heart of North Berwick and is believed to date back to the seventh or eighth century. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, the town was a thriving centre of medieval tourism, bringing 10,000 pilgrims a year to North Berwick.

The harbour was the ferry crossing point to Fife for pilgrims to worship the relics of St Andrew.

Anchor Green also has a long association with witchcraft. Francis Stuart, Earl of Bothwell, gathered 200 witches there in 1590.

It was claimed they were seen dancing on the green, summoning a storm in an attempt to bring about the death of James VI by shipwreck off the coast of North Berwick.

The dig is being carried out by Addyman and Kay archaeologists, the same team who worked at the Seabird Centre site in 1999, prior to its royal opening in May 2000.

That excavation uncovered a Roman coin, a Viking comb, shroud pins and clay moulds used for making pilgrims’ badges, in the shape of St Andrew on the cross. These treasures are now housed at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Tom Brock, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said any finds from the new dig would also go to the museum, but was hopeful some may come back to the seabird centre.

"We have just put up new information panels detailing some of the history of the area. The finds from the previous dig really were fascinating.

"It seems from the preliminary dig that this excavation could yield even better finds, and it is only right that they go on display at the Museum of Scotland.

"But we are working closely with Historic Scotland, and we would hope that anything they find could at some point come back to the seabird centre for a temporary exhibit."

The archaeological work is being undertaken in advance of a major new extension to the award-winning Scottish Seabird Centre, which has become necessary to accommodate the high number of visitors to the attraction every year.

The ambitious 600,000 project will see an underground tunnel built to link the existing North Berwick centre - which has attracted more than half a million visitors since it opened three years ago - to new harbour-side facilities.

An underwater camera and hydrophone - or underwater ear - will allow visitors to experience more closely the marine life of the Firth of Forth, which can include dolphins, whales and porpoises. The site will be exposed during the Christmas and New Year period, with work expected to end sometime in mid-January.

The team of archaeologists will be on site and interested visitors are welcome.

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