Rare Stone With Pictish Symbols Discovered in Scotland

Unearthed in a farmer’s field, the monument is one of only 200 of its kind known to exist

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This rare stone covered in carved Pictish symbols is one of just 200 stones like it that have been discovered. University of Aberdeen

Researchers have discovered a rare stone with Pictish symbols in a farmer’s field about 20 miles north of Dundee, Scotland, according to the Scotsman’s Alison Campsie. A team from the University of Aberdeen unearthed the five-and-a-half-foot-long stone during a geophysical survey in Aberlemno, according to Heritage Daily.

Calum Petrie writes in the Press and Journal that the team first started surveying the area with imaging equipment in early 2020. After finding some inconsistencies possibly indicative of a buried settlement, the archaeologists began a small test dig to see if they could find any remains. Unexpectedly, they immediately uncovered the symbol stone carved by the Picts, who lived in northern and eastern Scotland from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages.

“We suddenly saw a symbol,” research fellow James O’Driscoll says in a statement. “There was lots of screaming. Then we found more symbols and there was more screaming and a little bit of crying!...It’s a feeling that I’ll probably never have again on an archaeological site. It’s a find of that scale.”

The stone, dated to the fifth or sixth century C.E., is an extremely unusual find and is one of only 200 such stones known to exist in the world. Aberlemno is famous for its standing stones with Pictish symbols, the most celebrated of which is believed to depict scenes from the seventh-century Battle of Nechtansmere fought near there. The battle was key to the formation of Scotland, with Anglo-Saxon King Ecgfrith’s attempted expansion in the north choked by his defeat at the hands of Pictish ruler King Bridei Mac Bili, per the Scotsman.

Pictish symbols, including triple ovals, a comb and mirror, a crescent and V rod, and double discs, are intricately carved across the stone, which appeared to have been built into the paving of a building dating to the 11th or 12th century C.E., per the statement. That structure was built directly on top of settlement layers dating to the Pictish period.

Now moved to the Graciela Ainsworth conservation lab in Edinburgh for analysis, the discovery could prove critical to understanding the significance of Aberlemno to the Picts, according to the statement. Since the Picts left no written records, modern understanding of them comes from these symbols and accounts from later Scottish and Roman writers.