Excavations at one of Edinburgh’s historic buildings have unearthed the laboratory equipment of a leading light of 18th century chemistry.
The vintage chemistry set – some items of which still contain chemicals – were found at a dig on the quadrangle of the University of Edinburgh’s Old College and have been determined to be the former property of Joseph Black.
Black, who is credited with discovering carbon dioxide, was a major player in 18th century chemistry up to his death in Edinburgh in 1799. As well as retro versions of the glassware and thermometers used by modern chemists the excavations also found ceramic distillation apparatus from Josiah Wedgwood, himself an important figure in the history of science and founder of the famous pottery firm.
“The age and style of the items and the location in which they were discovered all point towards their having belonged to Joseph Black himself,” says Robert Anderson, a historian of science at the University of Cambridge (statement, see also video below). “The discovery is wonderful new evidence of Black’s working practices.”
Pictured above is Tom Addyman, founder of Addyman Archaeology, which is overseeing the dig prior to a landscaping of the quad.
Image: Angus Blackburn/University of Edinburgh