IT IS no secret that the former Market Street Haddington home of the East Lothian Courier is steeped in history...

And now the site's prominence has been strengthened further by the significant discovery of medieval pottery buried beneath the old printworks for nearly 1,000 years.

A team of archaeologists drafted in to excavate the Market Street/Newton Port site, as part of the transformation of the former newspaper works to the new HQ of East Lothian Housing Association, uncovered a medieval well buried in the grounds of the building that housed the Courier's printing press (see image, inset). The excavation, carried out by Edinburgh's Addyman Archaeology under the guidance of East Lothian Council archaeology officers, uncovered a number of "white, gritty" shards of pottery within the pit, believed to date back to the mid-12th-13th century.

The discovery has been hailed as an "incredible find" by the archaelogists involved, who believe the pieces could be some of the very first locally made medieval pottery to be found in Scotland, and certainly the oldest to be discovered in East Lothian - predating medieval pottery kilns unearthed previously within the grounds of the Colstoun Estate, near Haddington.

At the annual conference of the Medieval Pottery Research Group attended by between 50-60 archaeology specialists in Perthshire on Monday, Tom Addyman, director of Addyman Archaeology and who was present at the excavation of the pieces, delivered a presentation on the discovery to experts from throughout the UK and said the find had provoked a "very excited" response from those in attendance.

"We worked on a very similar site about 10 years ago at 44 Market Street in Haddington that had a lot in common with the Courier site - some early pottery had been found there so we were hopeful that there would be something to discover this time around," Mr Addyman told the Courier.

"This is an extremely important find.

"The pit itself is a very odd feature. It appears to be some sort of rubbish pit or latrine but we don't know exactly what it was used for so that is being investigated at the moment.

"The results of the two sites together is something incredibly interesting.

"What is very exciting about this is that, in terms of typology (the classification of things according to their characteristics) it could mean that the type sequences that have been used when dating other finds throughout the UK would need to be reexamined.

On how the excavation was plotted, he explained: "We were simply keeping a watchful eye on where the new building required deeper foundations and deeper work to be carried out.

"I was very hopeful that we might find something, though I felt it might be a long shot to find anything of great significance, so I was absolutely delighted when this was uncovered.

"In spite of their date the pieces were most beautifully made by a potter of great competence working at a fast wheel to produce straight sided vessels whose ribbed sides are only millimetres thick." One of one of UK's leading experts on medieval and post medieval pottery, George Haggarty, was brought in by Addyman Archaeology as an independent ceramics expert to examine the pieces.

Mr Haggarty, a research associate of National Museum Scotland, echoed Mr Addyman's praise of the craftmanship that created the pieces: "Most early pottery was handmade so to discover wheel-turned pieces is quite uncommon.

"This is far superior craftmanship - these are absolute superb pieces of work." The recovered pieces include cooking vessels that still preserve soot blackening from their active use.

Samples of charcoal scraped from a selection of the pieces will be sent to Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre's radiocarbon dating laboratory at East Kilbride, to determine a more precise date of origin.

Mr Haggarty pointed out it was too early to speculate how widely the find would impact on understanding of the history of UK medieval pottery, citing other discoveries in the Borders as possible contenders, though he confirmed it was certainly "an extremely significant discovery in terms of dating East Lothian's medieval pottery industry".

The excavation also revealed a number of fascinating facts about the origins of the Courier building itself and the development of the site as a landmark of Haddington's town centre.

For example, at the Courier building parts of the old street frontage were found, fully 14 feet behind the present line - this 'creeping forward' of the street frontage is a feature that can be seen elsewhere on Market Street.

Martin Pollhammer, chief executive of ELHA, said: "First and foremost we are delighted with our new head office and the fact that we have been able to find a suitable new use for a Grade B listed building right in the middle of Haddington town centre, that may well otherwise have fallen into dereliction.

"On top of this, to come across archaelogical discoveries of both local and national significance as we worked through the redevelopment was fantastic.

"Tom brought some of the pottery in for us to see, the quality of the craftsmanship is amazing and we feel privileged to have had a small hand in its discovery." The law requires finds of objects - including those from an archaeological excavation, to be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit, based at the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

Interested organisations such as the National Museum of Scotland, or East Lothian Council, can bid during the Treasure Trove process for the right to display the pieces.

A council spokesperson said: "Our Museums and Archaeology Services will work closely together to submit a bid to hopefully return the finds to East Lothian through the Treasure Trove process."