AN international team of expert scavengers is unearthing vital clues to Glasgow’s hidden history in a £4.9million project.
Up to 80 archaeologists are digging sites along the five-mile route of the M74 extension.
They have already started to find unexpected evidence of how housing developed in the city and glimpses of early tenement life.
But they hope the public will help them fill in a few knowledge gaps at a series of open days, starting this weekend.
Digging at one site, between Eglinton Street and Pollokshaws Road, has unearthed an early tenement building, called Rosehill in maps from 1856.
The remains, with spiral stairs built into towers on an outer wall, show how toilets were introduced later as hygiene laws were toughened and ever increasing numbers of people crammed into tenement houses in the area.
The archaeologists, including some from Spain, Iran, America and Canada, have also found an early toothbrush made from horsehair, with a maker’s mark burned into its bone handle.
Toys, including a tiny lead figure of a milk maid, have also been unearthed, along with grisly moulds of people’s teeth. A silk weaver’s comb hints the house occupants may have run a small cottage industry at one point.
Just feet away, the cobbled yard of a cooperage where barrels would be restored for sale and a farrier’s, looking after dray horses used to pull wagons, have been uncovered far below the level of modern streets.
Consultant Hugh McBrien, from the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, said: “There are significant gaps in our understanding of early tenement life.
“Only certain kinds of information tend to have been recorded. No-one thinks to write down what everybody knows’ but, in time, the people who knew it have gone.”
Site director Michael Bardill said: “If you are excavating a 15th Century monastery, there is no-one around to tell you how people lived.
“But we hope people will come along to one of the open days or contact us to tell us what they know of these sites and share any pictures they have of the them in their heyday.”
Transport Scotland has funded the scheme, which is run by Glasgow City Council through a partnership, HAPCA, formed by firms Headland Archaeology and Pre-Construct Archaeology.
The excavated sites will disappear from view again when construction work on the motorway begins in the spring, but items found will be at the heart of a discovery centre that will open at the Scotland Street School Museum.
The centre will also offer visitors a chance to try archaeology for themselves and take part in a “simulated dig”.
Other sites will hold open days later, including Dixon’s Blazes, a foundry in the Gorbals, where investigators hope to find clues to how workers and managers lived on the site.
Discoveries have already been made at the former Caledonian Potteries in Rutherglen.
The exhibition and oral history project will run until Spring 2009.
The Sunday Herald: Route of M74 extension offers insight into our past