Grassmarket finding could shed light on the capture of Edinburgh Castle

Archaeologists believe a late medieval discovery in Edinburgh could shed new light on Edward I’s Siege of Edinburgh.

Archaeologist Samuel Kinirons with the find 2- credit Scott Louden, The ScotsmanArchaeologist Samuel Kinirons with the find 2- credit Scott Louden, The Scotsman
Archaeologist Samuel Kinirons with the find 2- credit Scott Louden, The Scotsman

An excavation in the Grassmarket has unearthed rare remains of a large carved stone similar in appearance to a cannon ball dating to the 13th Century, more than 200 years before the introduction of gunpowder or cannons in Scotland.

It is thought the ball was launched from a large wooden catapult known as a trebuchet, either from or towards the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle in the period of the Siege of Edinburgh in 1296. A significant event in Scottish history, the Siege saw Edward I capture Edinburgh Castle and hold it under English rule for 18 years, plundering treasure from across Scotland including the Stone of Destiny in the process.

The finding was made as archaeologists from AOC Archaeology continue to investigate the site, which has been earmarked for Europe’s first Virgin Hotel. It is hoped the new 225-room Virgin Hotel Edinburgh will be open by 2020.

The archaeology work is entirely funded by India Buildings Limited, who are developing the site, and managed by CgMs Heritage. Work began to dig the area in May and is expected to continue into the new year.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener, said: “I never fail to be astonished by the discoveries made by archaeologists in Edinburgh but this really is a remarkable find. Unearthed in the shadow of the Castle in the Grassmarket, and aged at 700-800 years old, the evidence seems to point to this catapult ball being fired during the Siege of Edinburgh. It just goes to show how important it is that we take the opportunity with every major development in the city to investigate what’s underneath with a thorough excavation – well done to everyone involved.”

Richard Conolly, of CgMs, said: “As archaeologists, most of our work deals with the remnants of day to day life. So, it is really exciting for the team to find something that potentially provides a direct link to an historic event and specific date. The siege only lasted three days – we don’t often get that kind of precision in our dating. It is also a reminder that it was not just the castle that was involved in the siege; the surrounding town must also have taken a battering.”

Nick Finnigan, Executive Manager at Edinburgh Castle, said: “This is an exciting new discovery which helps contribute to our understanding of Edinburgh Castle’s remarkable history - particularly during the Wars of Independence. Edinburgh Castle has been besieged more than any other castle in the UK and it’s incredible that we are still uncovering artefacts from these historic sieges.”

City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, John Lawson, added: “It looks like the type of ball which would have been fired by a trebuchet, one of the most powerful catapults used in the Middle Ages. Worldwide, the most famous account of a trebuchet is that of Warwolf, the giant catapult used by Edward I’s army at Stirling Castle in 1304. What we’ve discovered here suggests similar weapons were also used in Edinburgh, possibly even during Edward I’s Siege of Edinburgh in 1296, when the Stone of Destiny was stolen and the Castle taken out of Scottish hands. We always knew this area of the Grassmarket could shed new light on Edinburgh in the dark ages, and here we are with the discovery of a medieval weapon. It’s a really exciting find, particularly if we can prove its links to the Siege of Edinburgh.”

Image: Archaeologist Samuel Kinirons with the find, credit Scott Louden, The Scotsman

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