Plague link to skeletons discovery as Edinburgh dig resumes

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have returned to the Edinburgh townhouse where the remains of four humans were discovered last week in a bid to determine if more are buried at the site.

Experts probed the garden to the rear of a property in Grove Street, Haymarket, yesterday following the grim discovery of a series of skeletons last Friday.

Half of the garden was dug up by a team led by Museum of Edinburgh curator John Lawson, but it is understood no other bodies had been found.

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While the search continues, scientists at Strathclyde 
University hope to uncover more details about the bones previously found to unlock the mystery of how they came to be buried at the site.

Richard Lewis, the city’s culture leader, whose museum staff are undertaking the work, said: “The remains will be 
carbon dated to determine their age and further investigative work is ongoing by archaeologists to see if anything more can be learned from the site. Until then, the mystery continues.”

As the News revealed on Monday, police were called to the Georgian property last week after workmen found a series of bones while installing decking at the empty property as part of a renovation.

Initially it was thought they were pets buried in the garden until skulls and teeth were unearthed from the soil.

The terraced row of properties was built in 1822 and experts believe the bones were probably in the ground prior to their construction.

The building was bought by Mary-Anne Gallo, 34, and her husband, Riccardo, 29, who were renovating the property before moving in at a later date.

Mr Gallo said: “It was a bit of a shock at the time when the bodies were found, but now it’s been passed on to the authorities and despite the search on Thursday and Friday no other remains have been discovered.

“Having spoken to the guys from the council, though, they are still at a loss to how they ended up there.”

The complex nature of carbon dating means it is likely to be later this year at the earliest before experts can determine how the four individuals met their fate.

However, writer and historian Alex Wilson said it was possible the deaths could be linked to the Great Edinburgh Plague of 1645 which claimed thousands of lives.

Although Leith bore the brunt of the disease – 60 per cent of residents perished by some estimates – the disease spread throughout the Capital, largely due to unsanitary 
conditions and the high-density housing.

Mr Wilson said: “The death rate in the Great Plague of 1645 was fairly substantial and not helped by the unsanitary conditions in Leith, and although that’s where was hardest hit, it did spread to Edinburgh.

“When the death rate got so high, and they couldn’t make enough coffins or even shrouds, they just had to dig a pit and dump them in.

“During the tram works on Constitution Street, they found burial sites with bodies had been piled up. If the bodies are grouped together in Haymarket, as this suggests they are, then it could be linked to the plague.”