Medieval graveyard excavation starts as part of Trams to Newhaven project

Archaeologists have started their excavations of human remains, some of which could date back as far as 1300, outside South Leith Parish Church as work on the Trams to Newhaven project in Edinburgh continues to ramp up. Previous investigations have shown that in the medieval period the church’s graveyard extended across the road with graves surviving beneath the current road surface.

The team from GUARD Archaeology Ltd are on site removing any human remains that are likely to be affected by the tram works and have so far exhumed more than ten bodies dating from between 1300 and 1650 as well as finding the apparent remnants of the original medieval graveyard wall.

Once they are excavated the remains will be subject to examination and analysis that will reveal information on the origins, health, diseases and diet of the people of medieval Leith.

John Lawson, Council Archaeologist, said: “The historic port and town of Leith is one of the 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.”

All works on the extension – including these archaeological investigations – are being carried out while physical distancing is maintained and with additional measures introduced to protect workers and the public’s health. Main construction works are now taking place on Leith Walk from Elm Row to Crown Place with traffic management in place reducing Leith Walk to one city bound lane between London Road and Crown Place. There are also numerous bus diversions in place too.

Cammy Day, Depute Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, 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.”

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