Dig finds treasured tools of leading 18th century scientist

SCIENTIFIC equipment dating back to the 18th century and believed to have been owned by a leading Enlightenment figure has been uncovered in an archaeological dig at the University of Edinburgh.

The items uncovered include laboratory apparatus and brightly coloured chemicals, which were almost certainly the property of Joseph Black, a professor of chemistry best known for his discovery of carbon dioxide gas.

Also included in the discovery which was described as a "very unusual" find, are samples of mercury, arsenic and cobalt, together with glass tubes and other vessels, bottle stoppers and thermometers, storage jars, and ceramic distillation apparatus made by Josiah Wedgwood.

The dig at the Old College site is being carried out ahead of a 1 million landscaping of the quadrangle. The landscaping is one of several improvement projects taking place as part of a five-year fundraising initiative, the 350m University of Edinburgh Campaign.

Archaeologists have already unearthed remnants of the buildings close to the spot where Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley - the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots - was murdered.

Excavation director Tom Addyman, of Addyman Archaeology, explained that the team had not expected to find such a large amount of artefacts. He said: "We dug some test trenches last year, but didn't find much. But as we watched the general excavation take place, we realised there was a huge amount of archeology coming up and a lot of human remains.

"We started an emergency dig a couple of weeks ago, opening a bigger area within the building, and there we found a whole floor strewn with laboratory-related materials.

"While there will have been some clearance before the building was demolished, it seems a lot of materials were simply left there, perhaps because they had become out of date.

"We very strongly suspect that many of these items belonged to Joseph Black as they date back to 1766, when he was working at the college."

"We have also found some very interesting ceramics, a type that so far is pretty much unrecorded, and we believe they were sent by Josiah Wedgwood. They are of the right date.

"This suggests a direct link between Black and Wedgwood and is the first physical evidence linking these two great minds of the 18th century."

Black was a student at Edinburgh from 1752-54 and went on to become Professor of Chemistry in 1766. He was a key figure in the Enlightenment and was an associate of Adam Smith and David Hume, among others.

Dr Robert Anderson, an eminent museum curator and expert on Black, said: "The age and style of the items and the location in which they were discovered all point towards their having belonged to Joseph Black himself. The discovery is wonderful new evidence of Black's working practices."