Human bones unearthed as tram workers hit ancient graveyard

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WORKERS have discovered centuries-old human remains while digging tram works on Leith Walk.

Archaeologists are said to believe that the skeletons, found near Elm Row, may be up to 500 years old, and there could once have been a graveyard on the site.

They began painstakingly removing and cataloguing the bones following the discovery yesterday. The news follows a similar discovery in Constitution Street in May.

Trams firm TIE is still carrying out work to divert utilities on Leith Walk, before laying the first rails later this year.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "As part of the trams utility diversion works, human remains were uncovered near Elm Row in the city.

"We are unable to confirm any further details at this stage, including the exact age of the remains, however the city archaeologist has been on site to carry out an inspection."

Charlie Forrester, a shopkeeper at Pringles, yards from the site, said the discovery had caused some excitement in the area.

He said: "There's been archaeologists there all day – there was quite a furore.

"They were digging it up very carefully and taking things out. They said they thought it was a graveyard there, but they don't know how big it is yet.

"They even wanted to look in my cellar. Perhaps I should give tours – it could be the new Mary King's Close!"

The bones were found at the junction of London Road and Elm Row. Archaeologists are expected to return to the site today to continue the excavation.

One tram worker, who did not want to be named, said: "We've been told one of the bodies was buried east to west, and people are usually buried north to south. It could be on the edge of another burial ground, and there could be more bodies nearby.

"Another archaeologist said that the body could have slipped down from the graveyard on Royal Terrace, but you'd think the skeleton would be in parts."

Archaeologists have already uncovered human remains dating from medieval times while working alongside the tram route in Leith. They carried out excavations near the South Leith Parish Church graveyard on Constitution Street after it was identified as a site of special historical significance.

They unearthed new sections of the city's defences, thought to date from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as unexpectedly uncovering burials below the street.

Professor Donald Bloxham, a historian from Edinburgh University, said the new discovery would add to their understanding of Edinburgh's history.

He said: "It will be fascinating to see what they uncover. At least something positive has come out of the tramworks."