• Edinburgh archaeology


    When we're working in historic areas such as Edinburgh’s Old Town, we employ an archaeologist to observe our excavation every step of the way and ensure any features and artefacts are archaeologically recorded. This is a requirement outlined by the City of Edinburgh Council’s Archaeology Service (CECAS).

    Our excavations in the areas we are working could potentially reveal items and structures of archaeological importance. As we dig, the soil around our gas mains pipe will be carefully removed with the supervision of the archaeologist. The soil will then be analysed and any small items of archaeological significance removed. The results will then be assessed by a wide range of specialists - from historians and environmental scientists, to experts in ceramics and animal bones.

    A drawing which shows what Cowgate in Edinburgh looked like in the 18th century. The drawings show a narrow cobbled street with buildings on either side of it. Toward the front of the image, a woman is carrying a child and a man pushing a wooden cart is behind her. Further down the street, other people stand talking to one another

    Cowgate, Edinburgh in the 18th century 


    The five main areas of archaeological interest are:

    Blackfriars Street which was originally only around one third of the width it is now. Heading downhill from the Royal Mile it’s likely that the right hand side of the street was the original boundary of the road. There was a major fire at one point which led to most of the left hand side of Blackfriars Street being razed to the ground. The left hand side of the street was rebuilt in the 1860s. Wooden houses were replaced by stone buildings so fire couldn’t spread again. The new houses in Blackfriars Street replaced once high status 16th century properties which became notorious slums in the 19th century.

    Cardinal Beaton’s house which sat at the bottom of Blackfriars Street at its junction with the Cowgate. This would  have been a very grand building in its day. The Cardinal was a key political figure in the mid 16th century.

    A stream once ran along the Cowgate. This was where the waste from Blackfriars Street flowed. The soil here is likely to be very waterlogged, meaning there is potential for preserved items like leather, wood, coins, animal bones, and pottery to be located here.

    At the junction of the Pleasance with the Cowgate there was once a large, grand entrance gate to the city. During the Renaissance period wealthy people built mansions around the Holyrood Road area, as they wanted to be next to the Abbey (where Holyrood Palace now sits), which would have been the most grand building of the day, with the exception of Edinburgh Castle. In addition to their houses, they built gardens - these incorporated elaborate designs such as the saltire which were marked out using stone or gravel.