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A selection of site features and artifacts found during the archaeological dig in Edinburgh, Scotland prior to a Virgin Hotel construction project

1,000 Years of Archaeology Emerges from Virgin Hotel Site in Edinburgh Delaying Branson's Plans

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Sir Richard Branson’s first Virgin Hotel in the UK, which is being constructed in Edinburgh, will be delivered a year late. This is due to archaeologists uncovering 1000 years of artifacts at the site – artifacts which are providing new insights about the origins of the ancient city.

Last November, The Scotsman published an article about the “painstaking excavation at the Cowgate’s India Buildings in Edinburgh,” where archaeologists discovered artifacts dating to the 10th century, some two centuries before king David I created the town burgh and even predating the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Among the finds last year were “the outline of an old street and a 200-year-old tailors - as well as clay pipes, a pin made of bone, and pottery fragments from 700 years back.”

Richard Conolly, of CgMs Heritage, who are managing the archaeological works, told reporters: “With any luck, we might catch a section of the town’s medieval defences at the west end of Cowgate.”

Overview of the archaeological excavation site in Edinburgh

Overview of the archaeological excavation site in Edinburgh. (AOC Archaeology)

Digging Up Treasures Also Unearthed Delays

Sixty weeks later and the team is still digging and according to an article published in yesterday’s  Edinburgh News, they located the “ditches and walls marking the original boundary of the city” and what’s more, some of the discoveries could date as far back as the Bronze Age.

Among the reported finds on the AOC Archaeology website are: hearths, wall panel, structural timbers, rubbish pits, wells, a human skull, shoes, coins, figurines, jewelry, tools, an early cannonball and another massive ball believed to have been used in a giant catapult device that is believed to be evidence from the 16th Century siege of Edinburgh Castle.

John Lawson, the City Council’s archaeologist, told the Edinburgh Evening News yesterday that the project was one of the “most significant urban excavations ever undertaken in Scotland.”

A token and bullet have been unearthed

A token and bullet have been unearthed. (AOC Archaeology)

Raul Leal, chief executive of Virgin Hotels, announced this week that construction work on the new hotel would finally begin “within weeks” and they aim to open sometime in 2021. Leal added,

A unique insight has been gained into life in Edinburgh and the city’s development over nearly 1,000 years… We’re proud to have played a part in work of such national importance. We will look at ways we can inform our guests of the rich history beneath the rooms.

What Happens to the Artifacts and Archaeological Project After the Hotel is Built?

A Daily Business Group article quotes Donald Wilson, the council’s Culture and Communities Convener, who said, “As a council we are fully committed to understanding and preserving the story of this great city, and I would like to thank Virgin Hotels, AOC Archaeology and CGMS for working so closely with our team on this fascinating project.” He added, “The items found will help provide new insight into some of the earliest chapters in Edinburgh’s story, and I’m sure, will launch future scientific papers and exhibitions.”

Archaeologists hard at work and a selection of mid-19th-century ceramic figurines found at the site.

Archaeologists hard at work and a selection of mid-19th-century ceramic figurines found at the site. (AOC Archaeology)

According to an article in the Daily Mail, Virgin Hotels plan to make the archaeological findings “a major selling point of a stay in Sir Richard's first hotel in the UK, which will boast 225 rooms and create more than 300 jobs.”

All over the world, when construction crews begin excavating for new roads and buildings they run across all kinds of things, and sometimes even human remains. But it’s not always the stuff of Hollywood horror movies, as construction crews often find themselves digging up archaeology, and when this happens, building projects can be sidelined for years and sometimes shut down permanently.

Features found at the site in Edinburgh

Features found at the site in Edinburgh. (AOC Archaeology)

Because construction is more prolific in the United States, a vast machine of people are in place to deal with any such archaeological discoveries. And while the UK construction industry gets its share of delays, it is nothing in comparison to what happens in the US.

A Construction Dive article speaking with Cathy Lilford Altman, co-chair of the construction and real estate litigation group at Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal in Dallas, says “More than 120,000 federal projects in 2013 required some level of compliance under the National Historic Preservation Act, which led to 135,000 items being examined for their historical or cultural merits.”

120,000 Federal projects alone were delayed in 2013 because archaeology was discovered - and with the recent upturn in the economy, these numbers are on the increase. Thus, digging up the past costs ‘someone’ into the tens of billions of dollars every year.

Top Image: A selection of site features and artifacts found during the archaeological dig in Edinburgh, Scotland prior to a Virgin Hotel construction project. Source: AOC Archaeology

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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