A map of old Edinburgh, centred on Cowgate

Hidden Cities


Hidden cities fascinate me. The idea that beneath modern towns there’s a substrate of urban life that once was. There are a lot of them, which is no surprise because cities are built where they are for a reason, and the reason doesn’t usually change even if the city dies. In Canada we don’t have very much of that, our cities are too new, but in Europe it’s possible that beneath the streets lie the bones of knights and monks, a civilization of stories waiting to be unearthed. This week’s newsreel brings you three hidden pieces of cities in the UK. 

Stories of old Scotland

A map of old Edinburgh, centred on CowgateThe first find is in Edinburgh, where archaeologists have discovered a series of buildings dating back to the 16th century, including a number of artefacts and some intact frontings. They’re redrawing the map of old Edinburgh, filling in the puzzle of who lived there, and what it was like. The city’s archaeology officer, John Lawson, believes that this latest find is one of the most important in the history of Edinburgh, saying “We’re getting evidence of 500 years of Edinburgh history, covering everything from early mansions of the rich to the slums of the 19th century.” Many of the finds will go into local museums, to help tell the story of the roots of Edinburgh. Read the full article at Heritage Daily.

Better Archaeology Through Backhoes

Well, not better, but recent. A planned housing development in Towcester has run a bit aground because of an archaeological survey which found that the hamlet was larger in the middle ages than previously believed. The medieval hamlet of Wood Burcote dates back to the 10th century, and several of the cottage platforms remain. Archaeologists hope to be able to excavate them, but must work quickly because the planning council would like to go ahead with the development. It will leave Wood Burcote buried, like so many other towns in Europe. Progress marches on, though. Read the full article at About My Area.

Beneath Our Feet

Sometimes the things that lie just beneath our feet will astound us. Sewer workers in York were repairing an old Victorian sewer tunnel when they spotted mosaic tiles. A survey uncovered fragments of a Roman mosaic dating back to the third or fourth century. Earlier work in the 19th century revealed a mosaic of a similar style, depicting a bull with a fish’s tail. The floor will be extracted and join its partner in the Yorkshire museum. Contemporary archaeologists are consulting records from a hundred years ago concerning a piece of history left there over fifteen hundred years ago. Is this the most amazing field ever, or what? Read more on this at the York Press.

There’s a message in here for those of us who are so incessantly curious that we’re constantly sifting through the dirt for the remains of our ancestors, but I think there’s a more important one. Like last week’s find by soldiers, some of these finds were made by developers and even sewer workers who knew and cared enough to call in a survey team. Some people worry that digs like this exist to give jobs to specialists, or are fiscally irresponsible in our current economy, but I think the opposite is true. In these times, we need to be fascinated by the stories of our past. Not just classicists and medievalists nor curators and historians, but everyone. The stones beneath our feet do more than tell us where we came from. They tell us what people in ages long past endured, and we can look up from those stones to our own towering buildings, and see the results. They remind us that we too will endure, and that some time in the far future, others will be there to dig up our stories. We just have to write them.







Leave a Reply