In Pictures: The Edinburgh dig which led to "incredibly exciting" medieval reconstructions

By Ben Miller | 28 July 2014

The bodies in an Edinburgh cemetery dated as far back as 1315, with a large majority of those buried having grown up in the area, say archaeologists

Click on the picture to launch a gallery from the excavation

Experts from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, at the University of Dundee, joined forces with City of Edinburgh Council archaeologists to carry out forensic modelling on the medieval bodies, discovered during a dig to create new tramways near a former church site in 2009.

The work allowed them to determine the shape and depth of individual facial muscles and soft tissues. Isotopic analysis revealed their origins, resulting in computer recreations of the residents of the city between 400 and 600 years ago.

“The unearthing of such important remains was a major discovery five years ago,” said Richard Lewis, the Council’s Culture Convener.

“But to be able to gain an even closer insight into Leith’s medieval past is incredibly exciting.
“Edinburgh has an undeniably rich and interesting history. Work like this means the whole city can truly appreciate our heritage.”

Facts and figures

302 complete or near complete burials were excavated with fragments of at least a further 100 individuals recovered

33 bodies were dated from 1315AD – 1638AD

Around 20 percent of burials pre-dated the estimated date of establishment of South Leith Parish Church in 1438, with around 33 percent earlier than the official foundation date of 1483

No Graves appeared to post-date 1640. This may be an effect of the plaque and 1649 Siege resulting in a smaller post-plague burial ground. This could also explain the actions of the Church Council who, in 1790, declared they knew of no burials in this area

Strontium and Oxygen Isotopic Analysis undertaken by Dr Kate Britton, of Aberdeen University, of a sample of 18 bodies indicated that around 80 percent spent their childhoods in the Leith or Edinburgh area. The remaining individuals grew up within a radius of 25-50km

One burial, dated to between 1426 and 1516, provided possible evidence of women dying in late pregnancy or as the result of child birth, with the remains of neonate bones found across the pelvis

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