1,200-year-old Pictish cross slab found

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An ornately carved Pictish stone has been uncovered at an early Christian site in the Dingwall area of the Scottish Highlands.

Although broken, the surviving portion measures 1.5m by 0.6m by 0.2m, and the stone is thought to have been over 2m tall originally, maybe even up to 2.4m high. Its complex imagery includes an animal headed warrior with a sword and shield, mythical beasts, oxen, and symbols such as a double disc and z-rod symbol, which is common on Pictish stones. On the other side is an elaborately decorated Christian cross, with two large beasts flanking and surmounting it. These animals are unlike anything found on other Pictish stones, and are described by John Borland, President of the Pictish Arts Society and Measured Survey Manager at Historic Environment Scotland, as a reminder of Pictish sculptors’ ‘remarkable capacity for creativity and individuality’.

The stone was spotted by Anne MacInnes, a member of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, who was surveying the site as she was clearing vegetation, was verified by archaeologists from the Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland, and has been carefully removed from the site for conservation, recording, and display.

It is believed to have been carved around 1,200 years ago, during the period when the Picts were becoming Christianised. Around 350 of these monumental stones have been found in Scotland, and many were reused as markers or gravestones in later periods, as this stone appears to have been in the 1700s. This find has been described as being ‘of national importance’ by experts, as it is one of only 50 complete or near-complete Pictish cross-slabs known, and one of the first to be found on the Scottish mainland for many years. It is also the first object of this type found in this location and therefore suggests that the site dates back much further than was previously thought.

The conserved stone will be displayed at Dingwall Museum, and is expected to enhance understanding of Pictish heritage in an area that was significant at the time of the slab’s creation.

To read more about plans for the stone and how to contribute to the conservation work and redisplay, visit www.nosas.co.uk/sponsora pictish stone.asp

This news article appears in issue 357 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to CA magazine, click here.

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