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Horse Skeleton & Medieval Shoe Found In Digs at Holyrood

A complete skeleton of a horse is amongst the many interesting historic finds at Holyrood Palace in Scotland over the past year of excavations, one of many finds that are part of a £10 million project at the palace.

Excavating primarily at Abbey Strand buildings in the Canongate, other finds include part of a  jug dated to the 1100s, a medieval shoe and an old smoking pipe with archeologists proclaiming that the site offers a unique snapshot of Scottish life through the ages.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly simply referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland and is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle. It has served as the residence of the Scottish monarch since the 16th century, although the currently existing structure on the site was built between 1671 and 1678.

Recent digs at the Holyrood site show a much earlier settlement in the area that the royal residence however, archeologists uncovering timber posts that date back to the 1100s. Experts believe these finds could be connected with the Augustinian Holyrood Abbey which was built in 1128, possibly marking the location of a terrace leading to the low-lying island on which the Abbey was built. According to legend, the Abbey was built at the site where King David I of Scotland had a religious vision on Holy Cross Day.

Uncovered under the lawn next to the palace forecourt, the complete skeleton of the horse was located near a medieval graveyard which served the Canongate. Why the horse was buried remains a mystery. Other remains, including Highland cattle, show evidence of trade between Edinburgh and the Highlands, while oyster shells and shards of wine bottles give some insight into the diets of courtiers and ambassadors from the time of the royal palace.

“The survey has provided a unique opportunity to understand more about the fascinating development of the Abbey Strand and its surroundings, and to explore how the site has been the historic and symbolic bridge between the palace and the city of Edinburgh for centuries.” – Gordon Ewart, Kirkdale Archaeology
Holyrood from Calton Hill by James Valentine. 1878 or earlier

Other finds during digs at the palace include a medieval leather show that was found in the Abbey Strand, fragments of children’s games dated to the 1700s and 1800s, part of a green-glazed European jug from the 1100s and a clay pipe dated to the 1600s inscribed with the initials of one of the earliest pipe-makers in Scotland.

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is currently undergoing a £10 million makeover with the construction of a purpose-built learning centre, the introduction of a new family room and improvements to the Abbey Strand buildings, all planned. The work, in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland, is set to be completed this year.


Michael East View All

Michael East is a writer with a wide variety of eclectic tastes including politics, history, archaeology, professional wrestling and British science-fiction. A former Students' Union President and newspaper editor, he has studied at a variety of institutions and graduated in both history and politics.

He is interested in truth, justice and the unAmerican way. Named as TIME Person of the Year in 2006 and 2011, he is known variously as a rake, a libertine and as the King in the North... if to nobody else but himself.

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