29/12/2018
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New archaeological find could help shed light on the history of Edinburgh Castle

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

The Grassmarket is a street in Edinburgh's Old Town that runs along the side of the castle and parallel to the start of the Royal Mile. It is thought the ball was launched from a large wooden catapult (trebuchet), either from or towards the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle in the period of the Siege of Edinburgh in 1296, an event that saw Edward I of England 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 find was made as archaeologists from AOC Archaeology continue to investigate the site, which has been earmarked for Europe’s first Virgin Hotel.

How might the ball have been used?

City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, John Lawson, explained how the ball might have been used in a siege situation: '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.

     QUICK LINK: Scotland's latest archaeology finds

'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.'

Fired during the Siege of Edinburgh?

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener, added: “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.”

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.

QUICK LINK: Ultimate Edinburgh history and travel guide

Image shows archaeologist Samuel Kinirons with the find and is courtesy of Scott Louden, The Scotsman

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