Interesting article in the Evening News today of an archaeological dig by Historic Scotland which has been going on underneath Edinburgh Castle, where they have been surprised by finding part of a two-metre thick defensive wall added after the attacks by the Covenanters and then that barrel of laughs that was Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s. The access tunnel used to explore this find under the Castle is, coincidentally, pretty much under where I stood on the Esplanade (where the Tattoo is held in August) to take the photos of the Castle by night a couple of weeks back with my new camera. Fascinating to think that with all of that history right in front of me there was even more hidden history a few feet below my boots.
Of course, with Edinburgh being built on a number of hills (which terrifies many an American tourist – walking around town is a shock to most of them, walking up and down hills is their nightmare) it means that much of what you see if built atop older structures. Recent relaying of cobbles on the Royal Mile (which runs from the Castle gates down the ridge to Holyrood Palace at the other end) revealed more bits and pieces from the 18th and 18th century (what passes for modern or recent history to us) and, famously, Mary Kings Close is an old street built over after plague and then rediscovered and now open to visit beneath the City Chambers.
Who knows how many other layers of deeper history lie below the Castle though? There is a reason why such a massive castle is built where it is, rising out of the volcanic rock, man-made structure and the hand of nature combining to create something which dominates the city (I love passing it every day to go to work – beats the hell out of passing high rise offices on your commute, doesn’t it?) and it is thought that some forms of fortified dwellings would have been there pretty much since people have lived in the land after the great glaciers retreated, carving out the hills and mountains that shape that land and the people; literally thousands of years of history beneath us, sleeping in the native earth, the ancient structures we see, old as they are, only the surface of a history stretching back millennia, through Scots, Celtic tribes, Roman visitors (who didn’t stay long) and back and back before even the Celts. Were there small groups fortifying that impressive rock back when the Callanish Standing Stones were being raised on the opposite coast? And if we consider the geological events which shaped these landforms we find we’re walking through not mere millennia, which flit past swiftly like birds, but the deep, deep time of the Earth itself; almost inconceivable timsescales we attach numbers to as if we really can understand a concept such as millions or billions of years. All of that comes together in what I see every day as I go past. I like that.