Medieval projectile found a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle

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Archaeologist Samuel Kinirons holds a carved stone, recently found during excavations at Edinburgh’s Greenmarket, that was possibly used as a medieval projectile. (PHOTO: Scott Louden, The Scotsman)

A large carved stone that was probably launched from a medieval catapult or trebuchet has been excavated at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. Similar in size and appearance to a cannonball, it was contextually dated to the 13th century – 200 years before the introduction of gunpower and cannons to Scotland. AOC Archaeology, who made the discovery, believes that it could have been used as a projectile, and its location suggests that the stone may have been propelled either from or towards the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.

While a precise date has not yet been determined, its 13th-century interpretation would place it within range of Edward I’s siege of Edinburgh in 1296, during which the English king captured the castle. It remained in English hands for the next 18 years.

‘This is an exciting discovery which helps contribute to our understanding of Edinburgh Castle’s remarkable history – particularly during the Wars of Independence,’ said Nick Finnigan, Executive Manager at Edinburgh Castle. ‘Edinburgh Castle has been besieged more than any other castle in the UK, and it is incredible that we are still uncovering artefacts from these historic sieges.’

John Lawson, City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, suggests that that the stone is similar to other balls known to have been hurled from trebuchets, which were the most powerful catapults during this time.

Commenting on the history of the weapon, he said, ‘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. 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 is a really exciting fi nd, particularly if we can prove its links to the siege.’

The Grassmarket excavation is being carried out in advance of development on the site. Work began last May and is still in progress.

This article appeared in CA 349.

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