Pictures and video show 14th century skeletons being unearthed during Leith tram works
A fascinating medieval graveyard of 14th century bodies has been uncovered during the ongoing Trams to Newhaven project.
Archaeologists started to dig up the site outside of South Leith Parish Church on Constitution Street yesterday, following previous investigations revealing that the church’s graveyard extended well beneath the current road surface.
On the first day, the professional team from GUARD Archaeology Ltd had already exhumed more than ten bodies which dated back from between 1300 and 1650, as well as finding the apparent remnants of the original medieval graveyard wall.
Following the excavation, the remains will be examined in the hope to uncover new information on the origins, health, diseases and diet of the people of medieval Leith.
The original archaeological work began in November 2019 but ground to a halt at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures.
Initial discoveries during the earlier four-month dig included whale remains which left experts baffled.
The whale bones, which could date back as far as 800 years, were identified by experts at the National Museum of Scotland and may have uncovered new evidence of the city’s centuries-old “defences” from sea attacks. Carbon dating tests are to be carried out to determine whether the bones may date back to the medieval era and Leith’s first settlements.
Other key discoveries included a 17th century cannonball and the remains of a large stone wall, found beneath the junction of Bernard Street and Constitution Street, where a statue of Robert Burns was temporarily removed to accommodate the works.
In light of yesterday’s excavation findings, Council Depute Leader Cammy Day said: “This is an extremely fascinating, essential part of the broader project to bring the tram to Newhaven, shedding some light on centuries of history here in Leith.
It’s crucial that we conserve the remains found here, and a team of archaeologists are carrying out the painstaking job of doing this. What’s more, further examination of the excavated graves will give us an invaluable glimpse into the lives of Leithers past.”
Transport and Environment Convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes supported the excavation work as an essential part of the project’s progress: “This element of the scheme is just as important as track-laying or landscaping and allows us to conserve a small piece of the area’s heritage for generations to come.”
City Archaeologist John Lawson said: ‘’The historic port and town of Leith is one of Scotland’s most significant urban archaeological sites with evidence of occupation going back over 900 years.
“Although only just started, the excavations by our team from GUARD have already provided important new evidence regarding the history of the graveyard and earlier town with the discovery of what we believe are the remains of its original medieval graveyard wall.
It is hoped that further new discoveries will be made and that we will learn important new evidence for the lives of Leith’s medieval inhabitants so that we can tell their story to modern Leithers.’’
The main tram construction works on Leith Walk from Elm Row to Crown Place are currently underway, as part of the council’s £207.3 million Trams to Newhaven’ project.