Prior to the redevelopment of the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad, we were commissioned to investigate the potential for archaeological remains across the site.
An archaeological evaluation revealed the presence of human bone and possible structural remains related to the 16th century town house of the Duke of Chatelherault - Hamilton House. The development commenced under watching brief conditions and significant archaeology was encountered across the Quad - leading to a large scale excavation.
The site has a well documented history and virtually every phase of its development and past were discovered and recorded to some degree. Landscaping of the 19th century had significantly altered the topography, but earlier archaeology survived to remarkable depths along the north and east sides of the Quad.
Structural remains of what may represent the Collegiate Hospital of St. Mary in the Fields were found underlying the stately home of the Duke of Chatelherault. Attached to this building was the substantial wall footings of the 1642 Edinburgh University Library building while the east end of the site revealed structural remains of the 1617 library building and associated sunken courtyard, complete with early 17th century cobbled surface. Within the 1642 building deposits of heavily contaminated materials were uncovered alongside glass and ceramic laboratory apparatus. Research has shown these materials to be associated with renowned renaissance Chemist Joseph Black. A sunken cobbled road with multiple phases of re-use was also revealed, running north-west towards Hamilton House. It was bounded to the south by the wall of the 13th century Kirk O’ Fields Church cemetery, behind which 66 burials were encountered a matter of centimetres beneath the modern surface. 44 of these were exhumed for analysis and preservation. Early fragments of clay bonded walls in the south-east of the site may represent outbuilding associated with the Kirk O’ Fields Church.
In addition to the enormous quantity of disarticulated and re-deposited human remains, the excavation team recovered a significant degree of pottery, glass and metalwork – specifically coins. The chemistry related artefacts recovered from the basement of the 1642 building are of national importance and will themselves form the basis of a forthcoming publication.