Workmen have found more than 20 medieval skeletons at the grounds of a top Aberdeen private school in what has being hailed as a “major discovery”.
The human remains were unearthed as a new boiler plant was being installed at Robert Gordon University’s Schoolhill administration building.
The bones were less than 2ft underground in the Quad area.
The boiler work was ordered by RGU – but the skeletons were discovered in the grounds of Robert Gordon College’s city campus.
Contractors installing cables found the first one near Schoolhill main library and called in Aberdeenshire Council archaeologists to carry out further excavations in the area.
It is believed the skeletons are those of people laid to rest on the site of the former Blackfriars Abbey during the 13th century.
The Dominican abbey was founded between 1230 and 1249, purportedly by Alexander II, but was destroyed by reformers in 1560.
It was granted to George, Earl Marischal in May 1587 and went on to become the Schoolhill site for the college after being opened in 1750.
In 2009 workmen uncovered wall foundations during resurfacing in the quadrangle in front of Robert Gordon’s College.
Other associated finds included glazed ceramic floor tiles, window glass, medieval pottery and a small pit filled with disarticulated human bones.
Now Aberdeenshire Council archaeologists have removed the recently discovered remains and are preparing a report on the excavation.
Facilities manager for Robert Gordon’s College, Michael Maitland, said the find could be “major”.
He said: “Contractors basically were working to instal lines and lay cables when they made the discovery.
“They were using a mechanical digger and with the first scrape, about 300 millilitres below ground (1ft), they found a skeleton.
“The first one was near the Schoolhill main library and we called the council archaeologists.
“They went on to find about 25 from around the 13th century, according to the archaeologists.
“They were saying they consider it to be quite a major discovery that they believe is tied to the old Blackfriars Abbey on the site.
“After the 2009 discovery we had warned the contractors that there was there was the possibility of discovering more skeletons.
“I’ve worked here 25 years and I never imagined there was all this just a couple of feet below me. It’s fascinating.”
Diane Morgan, historian and author of Lost Aberdeen, said the Roman Catholic abbey was abandoned during the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation and was left in ruins.
She said: “At the time the friars from both Blackfriars Abbey and Greyfriars were kicked out of the city and the abbeys left in ruins.
“This find is very interesting and in the 13th century people could pay money to be buried on sanctified grounds.
“This could mean the people were privileged.”
The former Robert Gordon University (RGU) Union building at Schoolhill was sold to Malmaison Hotel du Vin Group in a multimillion-pound deal in December.
The company has tabled plans for a 255-bedroom boutique hotel on the site, at 54-70 Schoolhill, including business meeting rooms, a gym, function suites and a bar and restaurant.
RGU has a long-term plan to eventually move all services from the centre of town into its Garthdee campus.
A spokeswoman for the university said disruption had been “minimal” and work was continuing on the boiler project.
She said: “During excavation work that was being carried out at our Schoolhill campus to instal a new boiler plant, a number of skeletons were discovered on the site.
“As a result, we have been working closely with the archaeology team at Aberdeenshire Council to progress the work in accordance with their guidance.”
An Aberdeenshire Council spokeswoman last night could not confirm that the skeletons were in its possession.
An Aberdeen City Council spokesman said: “We will respond to any requests for assistance with site investigations at Schoolhill.”
A spokeswoman for Robert Gordon College declined to comment.