Issue: Archaeological excavations in St Giles' Cathedral Edinburgh, 1981-93

Publication Type
Abstract The report describes the results of excavations in 1981, ahead of development within the South Choir Aisle of St Giles' Cathedral, and subsequent archaeological investigations within the kirk in the 1980s and 1990s. Three main phases of activity from the 12th to the mid-16th centuries were identified, with only limited evidence for the post-Reformation period. Fragmentary evidence of earlier structural remains was recorded below extensive landscaping of the natural steep slope, in the form of a substantial clay platform constructed for the 12th-century church. The remains of a substantial ditch in the upper surface of this platform are identified as the boundary ditch of the early ecclesiastical enclosure. A total of 113 in situ burials were excavated; the earliest of these formed part of the external graveyard around the early church. In the late 14th century the church was extended to the south and east over this graveyard, and further burials and structural evidence relating to the development of the kirk until the 16th century were excavated, including evidence for substantive reconstruction of the east end of the church in the mid-15th century. Evidence for medieval slat-bottomed coffins of pine and spruce was recovered, and two iron objects, which may be ferrules from pilgrims' staffs or batons, were found in 13th/14th-century burials.
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Author Mark Collard
John A Lawson
Nicholas M McQ Holmes
Editor Debra Barrie
Other Person/Org Roderick P J McCullagh (Author contributing)
Derek W Hall (Author contributing)
George R Haggarty (Author contributing)
Julie Franklin (Author contributing)
Thomas Addyman (Author contributing)
R Murdoch (Author contributing)
C P Graves (Author contributing)
Year of Publication 2006
Volume 22
ISBN 0 903903 91 1
Source DigitalBorn
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Abstract
1
The report describes the results of excavations in 1981, ahead of development within the South Choir Aisle of St Giles' Cathedral, and subsequent archaeological investigations within the kirk in the 1980s and 1990s. Three main phases of activity from the 12th to the mid-16th centuries were identified, with only limited evidence for the post-Reformation period. Fragmentary evidence of earlier structural remains was recorded below extensive landscaping of the natural steep slope, in the form of a substantial clay platform constructed for the 12th-century church. The remains of a substantial ditch in the upper surface of this platform are identified as the boundary ditch of the early ecclesiastical enclosure. A total of 113 in situ burials were excavated; the earliest of these formed part of the external graveyard around the early church. In the late 14th century the church was extended to the south and east over this graveyard, and further burials and structural evidence relating to the development of the kirk until the 16th century were excavated, including evidence for substantive reconstruction of the east end of the church in the mid-15th century. Evidence for medieval slat-bottomed coffins of pine and spruce was recovered, and two iron objects, which may be ferrules from pilgrims' staffs or batons, were found in 13th/14th-century burials.
2 - 3
This section lists the archaeological interventions in the cathedral and notes that the work carried out in 1981 forms the bulk of the report.
4 - 7
This section is derived from a variety of other published sources. It gives an account of the history and development of the church, the parish cemetery and the hospital of St Giles.
8 - 18
This section presents a detailed archaeological description with many illustrations. For the main excavations in the South Choir Aisle, four broad chronological periods of activity could be defined, three of which (Periods 1-3) date from the 12th to mid-16th centuries. The excavated evidence included structural remains relating to the development of the medieval kirk, and a total of 113 in situ burials. Period 4 encompasses the centuries from the Reformation to the 20th century.
19
A brief note on the burials, associated grave goods and phasing.
20 - 22
There were traces of coffins in at least 23 graves although only 5 were sufficiently well preserved for further analysis. The form of the coffins was unusual for the medieval period. While the sideboards ran longitudinally, as is commonly found, they were constructed with partially open bases formed by separate and spaced cross-boards (slats). Three similar examples were found at the Carmelite Friary in Perth. The latter, however, were not intended to be portable whereas those from St Giles most definitely were.
Roderick P J McCullagh
23 - 26
Only Scots pine and spruce were used in the construction of the coffins, the latter being imported from northern Europe. There was no evidence of dovetailed joints or any level of sophistication in the method of construction and nails were over-used.
Roderick P J McCullagh
23 - 26
David Henderson
27 - 41
The assemblage comprised a minimum of 155 individuals, represented by 113 discrete inhumations and a quantity of charnel. Over the entire period of use the sex ratio was 1:1 with the exception of period 3 which had more females and period 2a which had more males. As a whole the group were quite short with a slightly lower prevalence of arthritis, but otherwise were fairly typical of a medieval group.
David Henderson
27 - 41
42 - 45
This section presents summaries of small-scale archaeological investigations within the south transept in 1981, during installation of new organ in 1990-91, around the north transept in 1991 and during reflooring of the choir in 1993.
46 - 62
Specialist reports on pottery, ceramic building material, coins and jetons, copper alloy, iron, stone and bone objects, vessel glass, window glass and lead, worked stone and building materials.
Derek W Hall
George R Haggarty
46 - 52
Julie Franklin
Mark Collard
52 - 56
K R Murdoch
56
C P Graves
57 - 61
Thomas Addyman
62
David Henderson
63 - 65
A small quantity of animal, fish and bird bone was recovered during excavation in 1981 mostly from a mid-15th century backfill.
David Henderson
63 - 65
John A Lawson
66
An assemblage of 125 complete shells representing 11 marine mollusc species followed the general distribution patterns already established from other sites in Edinburgh.
John A Lawson
66
Mark Collard
John A Lawson
67 - 69
Absolute dating for the great majority of deposits and structural remains encountered during 1981 and in the other investigations was lacking but it is possible to use the remains uncovered to present a clear and sustainable framework of the sequence of development in this area, linked to the historical and chronological framework of the rest of the building of St Giles.
70
71 - 73
Mark Collard
John A Lawson
Nicholas M McQ Holmes
The report describes the results of excavations in 1981, ahead of development within the South Choir Aisle of St Giles' Cathedral, and subsequent archaeological investigations within the kirk in the 1980s and 1990s. Three main phases of activity from the twelfth to the mid-sixteenth centuries were identified, with only limited evidence for the post-Reformation period. Fragmentary evidence of earlier structural remains was recorded below extensive landscaping of the natural steep slope, in the form of a substantial clay platform constructed for the twelfth-century church. The remains of a substantial ditch in the upper surface of this platform are identified as the boundary ditch of the early ecclesiastical enclosure. A total of 113 in situ burials were excavated; the earliest of these formed part of the external graveyard around the early church. In the late fourteenth century the church was extended to the south and east over this graveyard, and further burials and structural evidence relating to the development of the kirk until the sixteenth century were excavated, including evidence for substantive reconstruction of the east end of the church in the mid-fifteenth century. Evidence for medieval slat-bottomed coffins of pine and spruce was recovered, and two iron objects, which may be ferrules from pilgrims' staffs or batons, were found in thirteenth/fourteenth-century burials.