Funeral to be held for skeletons discovered in Edinburgh playground

A funeral service will be held for a series of 17th Century plague victims discovered underneath an Edinburgh playground.

The former inhabitants of Leith were discovered within the grounds of St Mary’s RC Primary School in April 2016 during an excavation by Morrison Construction to build a new classroom.

The City of Edinburgh Council has confirmed the remains will be reburied next month (Friday 16 March) during a closed service in Rosebank Cemetery, where a memorial stone will be laid.

Archaeologists from Wardell Armstrong, on behalf of Edinburgh City Council, identified the remains of almost 80 individuals belonging to 54 adults and 23 children, including 6 infants, who are believed to have fallen victim to the bubonic plague which devastated the population of Leith in 1644-1645.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “An ancient city like Edinburgh never fails to amaze and bring new discoveries. Indeed, there is almost as much history to be found under the city as above ground! 

“When these remains were unearthed in 2016, the discovery provided the school with a fascinating teaching resource and the pupils at St Mary’s have had a great time learning about archaeology and the history of their local area.

“The findings have also added to our archaeological understanding of Leith, and the whole community has been very engaged in the excavation. We are looking forward to arranging a proper burial and lasting memorial to ensure they aren’t forgotten.

John Lawson, City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, added: “Leith and the surrounding area has a rich archaeological history and the school excavation has been a fascinating project for everyone involved.

St marys skeletons

Amelia Soffe, Louise Doyle, and archaeologist Megan Stoakley at the site in 2016. Picture credit: Ian Georgeson

“Analysis of the remains has helped us to understand life in Leith at this time and shed light on the devastating bubonic plague which wiped out over half of the Port’s population.

“These discoveries have helped us establish where this plague cemetery in Leith Links was - as until now its location had been lost, with only 19th century accounts hinting at its location in this area.”

The service will be private but will include approximately 60 members of the local and school community, staff involved in the excavation from the Council, Wardell Armstrong and Morrison Construction and elected members. It will be led by the Reverend of the nearby South Leith Parish Church.

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