Pictish stone discovered at an early Christian church in the Scottish Highlands

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A Pictish stone described as a


Rare Pictish stone carved 1,200 years ago discovered at an early Christian church in the Scottish Highlands is ‘of national importance’

  • The stone was discovered an early Christian church site in Dingwall, Scotland
  • It’s decorated with Pictish symbols and may have stood as tall as 7.8 feet high
  • It now measures around 4.9 feet after being broken down over the years 
  • It was even repurposed as as a grave marker in the 1790s, researchers say

A Pictish stone described as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime find’ has been uncovered in the Scottish Highlands.

The stone, thought to have been carved around 12,000 years ago, is decorated with a number of Pictish symbols and is said by experts to be of national importance.

It is believed the stone, discovered at an early Christian church site in Dingwall, originally stood at more than 7.8 feet (2.4 metres) high.

It now measures around 4.9 feet (1.5 metres), having been broken over the years and been reused as a grave marker in the 1790s.

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A Pictish stone described as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime find’ has been uncovered in the Scottish Highlands

WHAT WERE PICTISH STONES? 

The Picts are known chiefly for their elaborately but regularly decorated memorial stones found in profusion throughout eastern Scotland from Shetland to the Firth of Forth. 

The symbol stones are decorated in a structured way with a series of animal and object symbols current in late Roman Iron Age times – including mirrors, combs, cauldrons, geese and hounds.

They were erected from perhaps as early as the fifth century AD but were chiefly in use in the sixth and seventh centuries.

In the seventh or eighth centuries, simple cross-incised stones which were most likely grave-markers, indicate the arrival of Christianity in Aberdeenshire 

Anne MacInnes, from the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, was the first to recognise the stone while carrying out a survey at the church site.

She said: ‘I was clearing vegetation when I spotted the carving. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.’

The find was verified by archaeologists from Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland, before being safely removed from the site by specialist conservators.

The stone will now be professionally conserved with a view to ultimately putting it on public display at a Highland museum or other suitable venue.

Kirsty Cameron, an archaeologist at Highland Council, said: ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime find and what started as a small recording project has resulted in the identification of not only this important stone, but also that the site itself must be much older than anyone ever expected.

‘All credit goes to the local archaeologists for immediately recognising the importance of the stone and putting plans in place for securing its future.’

The stone, thought to have been carved around 12,000 years ago, is decorated with a number of Pictish symbols and is said by experts to be of national importance

The stone, thought to have been carved around 12,000 years ago, is decorated with a number of Pictish symbols and is said by experts to be of national importance

It now measures around 4.9 feet (1.5 metres), having been broken over the years and been reused as a grave marker in the 1790s.

It now measures around 4.9 feet (1.5 metres), having been broken over the years and been reused as a grave marker in the 1790s.

Designs on the stone include several mythical beasts, oxen, an animal-headed warrior with sword and shield, and a double disc and z rod symbol.

Details of the carvings on the reverse side of the stone are not yet known but experts suggest that, based on examples from similar stones, they are likely to include a large ornate Christian cross.

It would make the stone one of an estimated 50 complete or near complete Pictish cross-slabs known across the world, and the first to be discovered on the Scottish mainland for many years.

John Borland, president of the Pictish Arts Society, said: ‘The discovery of the top half of a large cross slab with Pictish symbols is of national importance.

‘The find spot – an early Christian site in Easter Ross – is a new location for such sculpture so adds significant information to our knowledge of the Pictish church and its distribution.

‘This new discovery will continue to stimulate debate and new research.’    

The find was verified by archaeologists from Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland, before being safely removed from the site by specialist conservators

The find was verified by archaeologists from Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland, before being safely removed from the site by specialist conservators 

The stone will now be professionally conserved with a view to ultimately putting it on public display at a Highland museum or other suitable venue

The stone will now be professionally conserved with a view to ultimately putting it on public display at a Highland museum or other suitable venue

It is believed the stone, discovered at an early Christian church site in Dingwall, originally stood at more than 7.8 feet (2.4 metres) high

It is believed the stone, discovered at an early Christian church site in Dingwall, originally stood at more than 7.8 feet (2.4 metres) high

WHO WERE THE PICTS?

The Picts were a collection of tribes lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and early Medeival periods from around 270-900AD. 

They formed a tribal confederation whose political motivations derived from a need to ally against common enemies such as the Britons and the Romans.

They have long been seen as fearless savages who fought off Rome’s toughest legions and refused to surrender their freedoms to live in conventional society.

However, this wild reputation might well be undeserved.

They actually built a sophisticated culture in northern Scotland and were more advanced than their Anglo-Saxon rivals in many respects.

Mel Gibson's blue face paint in Braveheart (pictured) is a nod to the Pictish tradition of body-paint

Mel Gibson’s blue face paint in Braveheart (pictured) is a nod to the Pictish tradition of body-paint

As a people, research has shown they were sophisticated, hard-working and skilled in many ways. 

We are increasingly finding that these ‘lost’ peoples – who have somewhat disappeared from history – were capable of great art and built beautiful monasteries.

The Roman name for the people – Picti – means ‘painted people’. It’s not known what they called themselves.

Mel Gibson’s blue face paint in Braveheart is a nod to the Pictish tradition of body-paint – but the real Picts fought stark naked, and there are records of them doing so up until the 5th Century.

The habit of fighting naked, especially in the cold Scottish climate, didn’t harm the tribe’s reputation for ferocity.

Picts held the territory north of the Firth of Forth in Scotland – and were one of the reasons even heavily armoured Roman legions could not conquer Scotland.

The Picts mysteriously disappear from written history around 900AD.

Experts suggest that they likely merged with southern Scots, who already had a written history by that time, and the two clans’ histories combined.

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