Medieval animal hide tanning, architecture and ditch revealed by archaeologists in Edinburgh

By Ben Miller | 27 May 2014

A boundary ditch which intersected an area of Edinburgh for 200 years is one of the rediscoveries in a dig revealing medieval living

A photo of a group of archaeologists in high-visibility jackets investigating a rocky area
© Courtesy Balfour Beatty
Pots from ancient Europe, bronze pins, coins from across history, clay pipes and animal bones are expected to portray 800 years of life after being discovered during an archaeological dig as part of a £65.7 million development within the Scottish capital’s World Heritage Site.

Archaeologists hope to use soil samples from Canongate to deduce the plants and fruits eaten by medieval people. They say animal hide tanning was the main industrial process taking place at the backlands – gardens and industrial settings behind homes – off Holyrood Road hundreds of years ago.

“We knew the site could help us understand how the Canongate developed from its origins in the 12th century to become the site of an important Victorian brewery,” said John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Archaeology Officer, surveying the results of a dig which will ultimately create student accommodation.

“It was important to discover what this area had to tell us about the history of our city before allowing a new development to emerge on the site.

“But we were surprised to find over four metres of preserved architectural remains and rare survivals of materials.

“The site has revealed the first evidence of an industrial-scale tanning industry in Edinburgh and also provides vital information on the topography of Edinburgh.

“The survey has also helped to pinpoint the location of the boundary ditch that existed between Edinburgh and the Canongate for over 200 years.”

A historical investigation was stipulated as part of the planning agreement for the new buildings.

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