Fortifications from the Siege of Leith and 200 bodies to be unearthed during Edinburgh’s tram extension excavation

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Around 200 bodies, a Second World War air-raid shelter and fortifications from the Siege of Leith are expected to be uncovered during the construction of the tram extension.

The archaeological treasures could be part of the largest excavation in the historic town and port of Leith and could range as far back as the 12th century.

Artist's impression of the tram extension (Photo: City of Edinburgh Council)

Artist's impression of the tram extension (Photo: City of Edinburgh Council)

Construction of the tram extension to Newhaven, which will cost the public purse at least £207m, is due to begin on 18 November, council chiefs confirmed on Thursday.

READ MORE: Edinburgh tram extension: November start date for construction of £207m project

Work is expected to last at least three years with residents told to brace themselves for a repeat of the upheaval experienced during the construction of the initial tram phase between the Airport and York Place which took more than seven years.

As part of the plans around 200 bodies will be exhumed from a graveyard during the construction of the Foot of the Walk to Coatfield Lane section of the tramline.

Artist's impression of the tram extension (Photo: City of Edinburgh Council)

Artist's impression of the tram extension (Photo: City of Edinburgh Council)

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City archaeologist John Lawson, who is in charge of all the archaeological finds including, said the construction will unearth several different sites of historic interest.

He said: “This has the potential to be largest excavation through the historic town and port of Leith.

“It will unearth further evidence of the town’s development dating back to the early 14th century and it is hoped that earlier evidence will be found regarding its earlier origins in and around the 12th century.

“As well as up to 200 burials beneath Constitution Street, dating from c1300 to c1650, we expect to find further evidence of the town’s important 16th and 17th fortifications including those of the Siege of Leith from 1548 to 1560 between Jane Street and Stead’s Place.

“Near Ocean Terminal we also hope to record and preserve the remains of the port’s Napoleonic era Old West Dock with its inbuilt defences.

“We are also anticipating excavating a WW2 air raid shelter in Baxter’s Place.”

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Archaeological digs included in time-frame

Project director of the Trams to Newhaven plans, Rob Leech, said time for archaeological digs has been included in the construction programme.

He said: “There are very strict guidelines as to what happens [with the bodies] but from my perspective there is a period of time which we have to set aside to do the exhumation and the archaeologists will take it from there and deal with them.

“The way that we programme the works is in consult with the city archaeologist. There are a number of areas of archaeological interest along the route that have been identified and we have ensured time in the programmes for those digs to take place.

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Transport and environment convener Lesley Macinnes added: “It is a really important part of what the council does to preserve the history, the fabric but at the same time move forward.

“This entire project is about the next stage of development for the city, it is about building resilience and sustainability.

“In order to really truly appreciate what we are doing we have to have a nod to the past as well to understand where we have come from to get to this point.”