Whale bones found in Edinburgh Tram Project

Edinburgh Trams to Newhaven Relic 2
Credit: Unknown

The team working on the Edinburgh to Newhaven tram project have resumed digging again after the coronavirus pandemic and have shown off some of the artefacts they have uncovered.

The artefacts were dug up around the city’s Constitution Street and are of historical importance, ranging from whale bones to a 17th-century cannonball.

There are also possible relics of Leith’s 16th and 17th-century town defences, as well as evidence suggesting the reclamation of Leith foreshore that took place earlier than they thought.

Archaeologists from GUARD Technology are undertaking the work under the supervision of Morrison Utility Services.

Edinburgh Trams to Newhaven Relic 1
Credit: Unknown

The relics include:

  • Whale bones – a matching radius and ulna of a large adult male sperm whale have been found. The bones are yet to be dated due to the coronavirus pandemic, which will help explain how they ended up under the pavement. Possible theories are that they were brought back in the 19th or 20th century as part of Leith’s historic whaling industry.
  • Cannonball – A small iron cannonball found thought to date back to the 17th century.
  • Historic drainage – Evidence relating to the reclamation of the area, including a large system of 19th-century interlinked brick and stone box-drains. Evidence of 17th-century clay pipes also shows that the reclamation of the area could have occurred earlier than thought.
  • Town defences – Prior to lockdown the remains of a large stone wall were discovered.
Edinburgh Trams to Newhaven Relic 3
Credit: Unknown

Council Leader Adam McVey commented: “Leith has a fantastically rich heritage but these discoveries continue to expose new aspects of its fascinating, varied history.

“I’m pleased that the team will now be able to resume their work as part of the project, which is vital to conserving the area’s past, and look forward to finding out even more as they progress.”

Deputy Leader Cammy Day said: “The Trams to Newhaven project is crucial to the long-term development of the city and this area in particular, helping to deliver much needed housing, jobs and investment for the future. As part of its delivery, it’s fitting that we also learn more about Leith’s past, as these remarkable findings are helping us to do.”

City Archaeologist John Lawson said: “Our work to excavate the area as part of preparatory work for the Trams to Newhaven project has offered really interesting glimpses into the area’s history, over the past three to four hundred years, and we’re endeavouring to conserve that.

“Discoveries like the whale bones have been particularly fascinating and exciting. These bones provide a rare glimpse into and also a physical link with Leith’s whaling past, one of its lesser known maritime industries and one which in the 20th century reached as far as the Antarctic. Given the circumstances of how they were found it is possible that they may date back to the medieval period, and if so would be a rare and exciting archaeological discovery in Edinburgh.”

Bob Will of GUARD Archaeology Ltd added: “The Trams project will allow us to discover more about the history and development of Leith from the medieval period to the modern day. The work so far has already uncovered a range of exciting objects with a cannonball and the whale bone.”

Work on Constitution Street began late last year, but stopped in March during the coronavirus pandemic.

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  1. Wow, This Part of the North of the Border, Who mwe all know as Scotland… Must be So Suprisingly Lucky to unexpectedly come across such intriguing bones of A Long Extinct breed of Whale.

    I wonder how and what whoever’s going to have, let alone to do with these newly discovered/hopefully recovered Whale Bones… A Museum Somewhere to Potentially Display them perhaps ?


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