Meet the Ancestors
The main entrance to the Scottish Seabird Centre is accessed from the Auld Kirk on the Anchor Green. During February 2000 while the new walkway was being constructed, over thirty skeletons were discovered on the site of the old St Andrew Kirk graveyard. The skeletons range from a new born to an elderly woman and were in a remarkable state of preservation.

One burial was of a man who was fatally stabbed four times in the back, twice in the left shoulder and twice in the ribs in a "professional" killing. The archaeologists believe the man was killed by a dagger-like weapon, a type thought to be carried mainly by military men. The murdered man was aged over 20, slightly better built than average, with wear to the shoulder suggesting possible archery practice. Also a number of other skulls exhibited severe blows to the head which had healed over.

Several female burials were discovered adjacent to the church wall and it is thought this area was chosen because of its close proximity to the north aisle dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Also two dogs were found buried together, probably in a sack. The skeletons lay just beneath the surface, intercutting which made it a complex archaeological project. The experts dug up stone tools, lead objects, ceramic material and bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds providing evidence that a medieval community once lived on the site.

Early Christian burials were wrapped in linen shrouds with bronze pins holding the shroud together. Many of these pins were found as well as a carved bone pin. Later burials were placed in coffins, and evidence of wood and rusted coffin nails were found along with their skeleton contents.


Among the artifacts discovered was a bone shroud pin which will be displayed in the North Berwick Museum.

These skeletons are over 500 years old.

Shows the area of the archaeological dig where two layers of skeletons were found.

The first kirk may have been built on Anchor Green by the second St Baldred when he arrived in North Berwick in the 7th century from Lindisfarne. By the 12th century the area around the town was owned by Duncan 4th Earl of Fife who gave land for a nunnery and helped to pay for a larger stone church on Anchor Green.

The facilities included a hospice which served the needs of thousands of pilgrims from all over the country who visited the kirk before crossing the Forth of Forth to complete their journey to St Andrews in Fife. Pilgrims were the tourists of their day and thanks to their trade, North Berwick grew and prospered. By the 16th century, the kirk had been extended to become an impressive place of worship.

The unearthed graves, sited on the eastern portion of the old graveyard date from medieval times. It was not until the 17th century that the church authorities insisted that all future burials should be on the north side, as internments on the east and south were exposed to storm damage and ground erosion. The last burial at the Auld Kirk was between 1649 -1656 when the church fell into ruin.

By the late 18th century the site of the church consisted of an irregular low grassy mound, the only building visible was the south porch, the remainder of the ruins had been progressively robbed for building material. In 1951, the Town Council commissioned Dr. James Richardson, retired Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, who resided at 7 Tantallon Terrace, North Berwick to excavate the grassy mound.

During the archaeological survey, Dr. Richardson found two clay moulds which were used to produce lead souvenir badges. One badge was decorated with a depiction of St Andrew and would have been sewn onto the pilgrims clothing by an attached loop. He also unearthed an upright slab bearing a cross on both sides which may have been a marker to indicate the church's right of sanctuary. This was important to protect those fleeing their pursuers till the due process of law could be brought into effect. The stone thought to dated from the 9th century is on display in the North Berwick Museum.

Dr. Richardson also discovered a recumbent grave slab showing part of a warrior in the rockery of the Manse garden at the Glebe. This was identified as the gravestone of Lauder of the Bass and was returned to the Auld Kirk. Lying at the entrance to the Lodge grounds was a 13th century broken cope gravestone and small cross-slab which were also returned.

At the time of the 1951 excavation two walls were discovered from an earlier church. The original Romanesque building with small stones was constructed facing east to west, typical of the Celtic churches of the period. In the 13th century the church was substantially enlarged with a bell-tower added. The ruined walls exposed by Richardson give an indication of the outline of the Auld Kirk, although a considerable section on the east is missing after it fell into the sea following a great storm in 1656. The bell was transferred to the church in Kirk Ports in 1664 and is presently on display outside the St Andrew Blackadder Church.

[Seabird Centre]
[Seabird Centre]

The small tidal island encompassed the ground of the Auld Kirk and graveyard, which gave way to a sandy cove where the esplanade now stands. The harbour originally took the form of a breakwater built along the crown of a ridge leading from the Plattcock Rocks. It was later enlarged and the granary constructed on reclaimed land.

The only surviving building at the Auld Kirk is the white washed entrance porch which was converted into a bothy in the 1850s when a fireplace was constructed on the north wall. It was also used to store the life saving rocket apparatus, with the explosives locked in the adjacent building used by HM Coastguard. During this period, two large Coastguard signal masts were erected on the Anchor Green, their base would have been to a considerable depth suggesting the north portion of the burial ground was not as extensive as previously documented.

In December 2004, a further excavation was carried out prior to the construction of a tunnel linking the Seabird Centre to it's administration building. At the top of the stairs leading from the Anchor Green to the harbour, the remains of a wall was unearthed and a floor surface consisting of stone slabs with a hard, mortar-like covering dating from the 13th or 14th century.

Further excavations beneath this level exposed an earlier building formed in a hollow of the bedrock where a hearth made of red leck similar to the rock quarried in the East Bay was discovered. Other finds included fragments of medieval pottery, hundreds of edible winkle shells, bones of butchered seals, fish, and seabirds including an arm bone from the great auk. Because of its value for both food and a source of oil, the great auk was hunted to extinction and last seen in Scotland on St Kilda in 1840.

On the floor surface was a stone with a carved two inch hole which may have secured the hinge of a door. The burnt residue from the hearth has been radiocarbon dated to the 7th or 8th century supporting the archaeologist's opinion that this former tidal island was an early Christian settlement used by St Baldred as a sanctuary.

[Seabird Centre]
During the excavation in February 2005 the foundations of a building was discovered including a pivot stone on the left.
[Seabird Centre]
In the foreground is a hearth made of red leck similar to the rock quarried in the East Bay, and beyond a stone with a carved hole which may have secured the hinge of a door.
[Seabird Centre]

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