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Edinburgh, Castlehill

Burial(S) (Period Unassigned), Coffin(S) (Period Unassigned), Animal Remains, Coin(S)

Site Name Edinburgh, Castlehill

Classification Burial(S) (Period Unassigned), Coffin(S) (Period Unassigned), Animal Remains, Coin(S)

Alternative Name(s) Castlehill Reservoir; Ramsay Lane; Edinburgh Castle

Canmore ID 52125

Site Number NT27SE 121

NGR NT 2539 7353

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (Edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT27SE 121 2539 7353

See also NT27SE 14, NT27SE 53 and NT27SE 492.

Wilson was present in 1850 when excavations were being carried out on the Castlehill for a reservoir (NT27SE 492, centred NT 2539 7353).

After some 17th century buildings, and several feet of soil, in which were found various coins of Charles I and II, and of James IV, had been removed, a considerable portion of a massive stone wall was found. This was undoubtedly part of the old town wall (see NT27SE 14) A Roman coin (NT27SE 53) was found some distance below the foundations of the wall.

Immediately underneath the coin, at a depth of 25', were two coffins, c. 6' long, lying E-W, each formed of a solid trunk of oak. They were unshaped externally but had been split open and the interior carefully hollowed, a circular space being made for the head, and recesses for the arms. One contained a male, and the other a female skeleton. Between the two coffins was found the skull and antlers of a gigantic deer, and alongside them part of another horn, worked to form a lance-or spear-head. An unsuccessful attempt was made to remove one of the coffins; the skulls disintegrated on being lifted, but the skull and horns of the deer are in the Scottish Museum.

D Wilson 1863.

In 1851 two log-coffins were found during the construction of a 'reservoir' on the Castlehill; they were not recovered. The 'reservoir' was probably the water storage tank (NT27SE 492) on the corner of Ramsay Lane, immediately NE of the Castle Esplanade. The excavations reached a depth of 25' (7.6m) at the point where the coffins were found but the depth of the discovery itself is not explicitly stated. They were, however, found in a 'thick layer of moss or decayed animal remains', 'beneath a layer of clay' and 'entirely below the foundations of the ancient city ramparts'.

Each of the two coffins measured about 6' (1.8m) in length and was hollowed out of an oak trunk. They were 'rough and unshapen' externally but had been split open. Internally, they were 'hollowed out with considerable care' to leave shaped recesses for the head and arms in apparent imitation of medieval stone coffins. Each lay E-W, with the head to the W, and contained an unaccompanied inhumation, one of them male and the other female.

The account of the discovery is consistent with their being extempore medieval burials of high status, and possibly connected in some way with military activity at the Castle or with one of the sieges of Edinburgh. The 'skull and antlers of a gigantic deer', the 'portion of another horn' and the Constantinian coin that were found in close proximity to the burials were presumably derived from earlier contexts.

D Wilson 1851; R J C Mowat 1996.


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