Historic items found at the Palace of Holyroodhouse


At the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, a number of historical artefacts have been discovered during an archaeological survey of the site.

Over the past year, more than 40 trenches have been dug at the site, which is being surveyed as part of Royal Collection Trust’s ‘Future Programme’ plan for the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

A medieval shoe, a 300-year-old smoking pipe, a fragment of a twelfth-century jug and the skeleton of a horse are among the items that archaeologists have discovered. Most of the finds were uncovered around the Abbey Strand buildings in the Canongate, among the earliest surviving structures in Edinburgh, and provide a glimpse into lives of residents over the centuries.

Excavations at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Future Programme projects include the restoration of the Abbey Strand buildings, the creation of a learning centre, and a new public garden behind the Abbey Strand inspired by the Palace’s lost seventeenth century physic garden.

The excavations in the Abbey Strand buildings uncovered evidence of the earliest settlement of the site, including twelfth century timber posts. The posts could mark the location of a terrace that led to the then low-lowing island on which Holyrood Abbey was built in 1128, or could have formed part of a structure used by the workmen who built the Abbey.

Archaeologists working at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

The items found include:

  • Twelfth century bones of Highland Cattle – evidence of trading between Edinburgh and the Highlands and Western Isles
  • Animal bones, Oyster shells and fragments of wine bottles – these give an insight into the diets of the courtiers who stayed in the Abbey Strand Buildings during the reigns of Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI.
  • Wine and spirit bottes, food debris and fragments of children’s games give a glimpse of life for the 25 families who lived in tenements during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
  • Pottery – a seventh century clay pipe bears the initials ‘T.B.’, the maker’s mark of the Edinburgh workshop of Thomas Banks, the son of Scotland’s first ever manufacturer of pipes.
  • A complete horse skeleton – this unusual discovery was found next to the Palace’s Forecourt. Although this area was close to the site of a medieval graveyard serving the Canongate, but it remains a mystery as to when and why the animal was buried there.

Founded as a monastery in 1128, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has a close association with the History of Scotland, and it the official residence of the Monarchy in Scotland. It is open to the public all year round, visit the Royal Collection Trust to find out more.