The skeleton and grave of a medieval knight and the remains of a thirteenth century monastery are among dozens of discoveries made underneath a former car park at in the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
The discovery was made when archaeologists uncovered the corner of an elaborately decorated sandstone slab with the telltale markings of a member of the nobility – the carvings of the Calvary Cross and an ornate sword, which tells us this belonged to a high status individual such as a knight or other nobleman.
An excavation of the immediate area also uncovered an adult skeleton, which is likely to have once occupied the grave. Experts say they will be able to find out much more about the individual buried in the tomb once they are able to remove the headstone and access the remains underneath.
They have been able to date the remains because of the grave’s position on the site of the monastery, and its similarity to other gravestones found from that period. An analysis of the skeleton and teeth will be able to us more about where the individual was born, what he ate, where he lived and how he died.
Richard Lewis, a Councillor at the City of Edinburgh Council, explained, “This find has the potential to be one of the most significant and exciting archaeological discoveries in the city for many years, providing us with yet more clues as to what life was like in Medieval Edinburgh.”
As well as the grave, the excavation of the area has revealed the exact location of the Blackfriars Monastery, which was founded in 1230 by Alexander II (King of Scotland 1214-49) and destroyed during the Protestant Reformation in 1558. Until now its exact location was unknown.
The project’s archaeological services have been provided by Edinburgh based Headland Archaeology and managed by Eddie Bailey. The archaeologist who found the grave, Ross Murray, studied at the University of Edinburgh’s former Archaeology building, which until 2010 was housed at High School Yards, just a few feet from where the Knight’s grave was found.
“We obviously knew the history of the High School Yards site while we were studying here but I never imagined I would be back here to make such an incredible discovery,” Murray adds. “We used to take breaks between classes just a few feet away in the building’s doorway and all that time the grave was lying under the car park.”
The car park had been demolished to make way for the University of Edinburgh’s new Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) building in the Old Town. The car park will make way for a rainwater-harvesting tank, which is among dozens of low carbon measures that designers hope will help create a highly efficient, sustainable building.
ECCI Director Andy Kerr comments, “The ambition of the University to Edinburgh is to create a world leading physical hub for low carbon innovation and skills, so no corner has been cut to ensure the building ‘walks the walk’ in terms of social, economic and environmental sustainability. We always knew that the building retrofit might uncover historical artifacts – given the site’s history – but this Knight is an extraordinary and exciting find. We want our new building to play a key role in shaping Scotland’s future, as these historical buildings on this site did in their time.”