Cowgate discoveries unearth Edinburgh’s hidden history

Remains of 16th century buildings have been discovered by archaeologists in Edinburgh's Cowgate. Picture: TSPL

Remains of 16th century buildings have been discovered by archaeologists in Edinburgh's Cowgate. Picture: TSPL

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THE buried secrets which lay beneath one of Edinburgh’s busiest nightspots have been uncovered by an archaeological dig in the 
Cowgate.

Archaeologists digging in the historic Edinburgh street have discovered a series of buildings dating back to the 16th century and artefacts ranging from combs to a primitive board game.

Archaeologists on the site have found everything from combs to shop fronts

Archaeologists on the site have found everything from combs to shop fronts

The last phase of excavation of the site, which is being developed by SoCo, has revealed the street frontages of the 16th-century buildings previously discovered.

Experts have already described the finds as among the most important ever uncovered in the Capital.

The latest findings are the final phase of architectural work which has been going on for the past ten years, following a major fire which raged for more than 52 hours and destroyed 13 buildings in 2002.

City council archaeologist John Lawson, pictured below, told the Evening News: “This part of the dig was the last piece of the puzzle – when all the discoveries are put together, I think it will be one of the most important archeological finds in Edinburgh. We’re getting evidence of 500 years of Edinburgh history, covering everything from early mansions of the rich to the slums of the 19th century.”

The excavation is also believed to have uncovered the work of the famed Scottish archeological family the Adams.

Among the finds are street frontage walls of 16/17th-century houses and later tenements, artefacts including pottery, bone comb and possible fragment of a gaming board and a complex of stone-lined drains.

Mr Lawson added: “The exciting thing about this latest stage of the excavations is we are getting the frontages of the buildings themselves, which, usually, we don’t get.

“That’s really important because it allows people to map accurately the changes that took place in the Cowgate.

“We’re finding quite a lot of artefacts and we have a lot of evidence for the domestic use of the street, from the 16th century right through to the early 19th-century slums. It all encapsulates Edinburgh in microcosm. Hopefully, this will tell the story of the Capital.”

The archeological findings, which it is hoped will remain with the council as part of the museums collection, will now undergo analysis.

Councillor Richard Lewis, convener of the culture and leisure committee, said: “This is a significant find as it completes the picture of artefacts and structures archaeologists hoped to find on the site.

“The dig is in the final phase and so this is the last chance for us to discover the secrets that lie in this historic area of the city.

“Everyone involved in the project is delighted that the site continues to provide important insights into this little-researched area of Edinburgh’s Old Town.”