Issue: Through the Cowgate

Subtitle life in 15th-century Edinburgh as revealed by excavations at St Patrick's Church
Publication Type
Abstract Excavations in the grounds of St Patrick's Church, Edinburgh were undertaken by Headland Archaeology from November 2006 to February 2007 on behalf of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in advance of the construction of a hotel on the site. Soil analyses suggested that flash floods had swept through this part of Cowgate up until the early development of the medieval town upslope in the 11th-12th centuries. This early pattern was followed by the gradual build-up of material washed downslope from the High Street; this contained midden material and dung beetles, illustrating the nearby presence of the town. The site lay outwith the bounds of the burgh until the 14th century, when a substantial ditch was cut across the site, believed to be the medieval town boundary. The ditch was backfilled in the 15th century and finds and samples have revealed a vivid picture of life in the medieval town. The ditch was a stinking rubbish dump for many kinds of human and animal detritus, which illustrates that the Cowgate was a busy thoroughfare to the town's markets and contained a variety of industries, including horn working. After the ditch was filled in deep midden deposits, characteristic of this area of Edinburgh, built up on the site.
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Author Elizabeth Jones
Issue Editor Helen Bleck
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Year of Publication 2011
Volume 42
ISBN 0 903903 57 8
Source DigitalBorn
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Abstract
1
Excavations in the grounds of St Patrick's Church, Edinburgh were undertaken by Headland Archaeology from November 2006 to February 2007 on behalf of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in advance of the construction of a hotel on the site. Soil analyses suggested that flash floods had swept through this part of Cowgate up until the early development of the medieval town upslope in the 11th-12th centuries. This early pattern was followed by the gradual build-up of material washed downslope from the High Street; this contained midden material and dung beetles, illustrating the nearby presence of the town. The site lay outwith the bounds of the burgh until the 14th century, when a substantial ditch was cut across the site, believed to be the medieval town boundary. The ditch was backfilled in the 15th century and finds and samples have revealed a vivid picture of life in the medieval town. The ditch was a stinking rubbish dump for many kinds of human and animal detritus, which illustrates that the Cowgate was a busy thoroughfare to the town's markets and contained a variety of industries, including horn working. After the ditch was filled in deep midden deposits, characteristic of this area of Edinburgh, built up on the site.
2 - 3
Information on site location, previous work and archaeological aims is presented.
Morag Cross
Elizabeth Jones
4 - 7
The evidence is considered in three sections: medieval development, the town boundary, previous investigations in the area, properties and owners. The site lay within the core of medieval Edinburgh from the 14th century onwards and would appear to form part of the rear backlands of a High Street plot or plots. The development of High Street is poorly understood.
8 - 21
An account of the archaeological methodology is followed by a description of the results. Five phases have been identified based on stratigraphy and dating of specific artefacts, primarily pottery. Finds and environmental evidence are integrated into the descriptive text. The phases are as follows: phase 1 - on the edge of urban development, 11-14th centuries; phase 2 - medieval ditch, 14th-15th centuries; phase 3 - 15th-century midden deposits; phase 4 - 16th-17th century occupation, most notably a coopered barrel and a culvert; phase 5 - 18th-20th century buildings.
22 - 25
The discussion covers the development and expansion of the medieval burgh in the 11th-14 centuries, the town ditch in the mid 14th century, life in the Cowgate in the early 15th century, 15th-century midden dumps, the recut of the town ditch in the late 15th century and developments during the 16th and 17th centuries.
26
The use of extensive environmental and finds sampling techniques has produced a broad picture of occupation in this part of Edinburgh during the later medieval period. Although there were no surviving structures, the finds from the ditch show how a collection of finds and ecofacts can produce a rich portrait when taken as a whole. The lack of medieval deposits on the top of the High Street ridge may have previously caused Edinburgh to be written off in terms of medieval research. However, the potential of the Cowgate and deposits at the base of the slope are just beginning to be tapped.
27
28 - 35
Julie Franklin
37 - 60
Julie Franklin
Anne Crone
Nicholas M McQ Holmes
Clare Thomas
38 - 60
The finds assemblage was almost entirely of medieval date, but for a handful of post-medieval and modern finds. The ditch provided the best of the assemblage. Other finds were from garden soils and were considerably more abraded. Waterlogging led to some good preservation of organic materials and metals, unusual in Edinburgh, including leather footwear, a wooden barrel and a horn comb. The finds assemblage represents a selection of the belongings and tools of the people who lived and worked along the Cowgate and upslope along the High Street during the medieval period, particularly during the 15th century. There are specialist reports on pottery, coins, copper alloy, lead, iron, bottle and window glass, ceramic building material, leather and a coopered vessel. These are followed by a phase discussion.
Auli Tourunen
61 - 104
Auli Tourunen
61 - 104
This section comprises a detailed specialist report. A total of 2080 specimens came mostly from medieval ditches, along with well stratified medieval and post-medieval layers. The assemblage is dominated by cattle, although this includes horn cores which are linked to craft activities rather than natural consumption. If horn cores are excluded sheep/goat is the most abundant species. Horse, bird and fish were also present.
Stephen Lancaster
105 - 115
Stephen Lancaster
105 - 115
Soil thin section samples were taken from Trench 3 at St Patrick's Church, Cowgate. The samples were analysed in order to investigate the processes of formation of the lower deposits on the site. The lower deposits have accumulated by slope wash, with one demonstrable episode of flash flooding. The deposition of the lower deposits probably represent the impact of the extension of settlement upslope in the Old Town.
Scott Timpany
Sarah-Jane Haston
116 - 125
The main focus of the investigation was the primary occupation layer dating to AD 1020-1210 and the basal layers of the medieval ditch. These deposits were found to contain well preserved organic material and thus a multi-disciplinary study including pollen, beetles and plant macrofossils was undertaken.
Scott Timpany
Sarah-Jane Haston
117 - 125
T M Mighell
127 - 136
Timothy M Mighall
127 - 136
Pollen preserved in the ditch suggests that the landscape was open and dominated by grasslands. Evidence for woodland is limited. The deposit was relatively rich in cereal type pollen and there is evidence to suggest that the ditch may also have been used to discard human waste.
Eileen Reilly
137 - 159
Eileen Reilly
137 - 159
The ditch fills produced rich, diverse insect faunas. Very few contemporary sites in Edinburgh or Scotland as a whole have been analysed for insect remains.
Elizabeth Jones
Excavations in the grounds of St Patrick's Church, Edinburgh were undertaken in advance of construction on the site. Soil analyses suggested that flash floods had swept through this part of Cowgate up until the early development of the medieval town upslope in the eleventh'“twelfth centuries. This early pattern was followed by the gradual build-up of material washed downslope from the High Street; this contained midden material and dung beetles, illustrating the nearby presence of the town. The site lay outwith the bounds of the burgh until the fourteenth century, when a substantial ditch was cut across the site, believed to be the medieval town boundary. The ditch was backfilled in the fifteenth century. After the ditch was filled in deep midden deposits, characteristic of this area of Edinburgh, built up on the site.