THE remains of several bodies believed to date back to the 16th century have been found buried below a busy main road in Edinburgh.
At least 25 skeletons of men, women and children were discovered during work on part of the city's tram project in Leith.
Archaeologists digging next to a historic church believe they have found evidence that its graveyard was much bigger than previously believed. It is thought that Constitution Street and several blocks of tenement flats opposite South Leith Parish Church were built over hundreds of unmarked graves.
The grisly discovery was made just yards from where a mock-up of a tram has been installed to help promote the 500 million project.
According to experts, there are records of the site of the churchyard being a place of worship dating back to the mid-15th century – the cemetery wall running alongside Constitution Street was not built until the late 18th century.
However, there are no official records of anyone being buried underneath the current road or the neighbouring flats.
The find is one of the most significant of its kind in Edinburgh in recent memory, as it offers a rare chance to carry out a dig in part of a graveyard and promises to give an insight into the lives of those who lived in the area at the time.
Experts will be called in to examine the remains, which are thought to have been disturbed during the construction of the 18th-century tenements and by work to lay underground pipes in the 1950s and 1960s.
John Lawson, Edinburgh city council's archaeologist, said: "A dig has been planned in this area for years to coincide with the tramworks, as this is a highly sensitive archaeological zone and there are records of places of worship being here in the 1400s.
"We were expecting to find something here, but nothing like this. The remains are in amazingly good condition considering they have been there for so long, and at the moment we have found at least 25.
"It does appear to be part of a post-medieval graveyard, as the bodies have been laid next to each other. The remains appear to date back to the 16th century.
"It looks like they have been disturbed before, possibly when the tenements were being built, but also when modern services were put in, probably around 50 years ago, when no-one would have known there were bodies underneath."
Sorina Spanou, project officer at Headland Archaeology, which is working with the council on the dig, said: "We've found around 25 skeletons at the moment, but we've got some way to go and if we continue at the same rate, we may eventually find between 50 and 60."
The two-month dig on Constitution Street is not expected to delay the tram project, as it is factored in to the work timetable.