The Picts -
Lords of the Rings - Set in Stone
The Romans called this pre-Celtic people Pictii,
words are proof that (as claimed by many historians),
the ancient Picts actually tattooed their bodies with designs.
To the non-Roman Celtic world of Scots and Irish and the many tribes of Belgic
England and Wales they were known as "Cruithni"
and for many centuries they represented the unbridled fury of a people who
refused to be brought under the yoke of Rome or any foreign invader.
Aberdeenshire was their heartland.
Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Moray and Kincardineshire are counties in North East
Scotland with the highest density of prehistoric and early-historic monuments
per square mile in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern
It is interesting that with so many stone circles that
that they did not adopt these ready hoardings for endorsing with their Symbols -
or did they? The conjoined circles, zeds, and arcs have graphic and
geometric discipline which seem to point a message of tribe or territory. In
addition to familiar animals we have heraldic beasts - Elephantine shapes,
Seals, and Dolphins morph into each other. Serpents or Adders twine around
gusseted right-angles and Zeds. Conjoined Concentric Circles, Half Zeds or
Vees with arcs, Puzzle protrusions or notches, Disks and or mirrors look
like their modern replicas and the presence of combs would indicate fine skills
in bone but why record such a painstaking addition to a Marker Stone.
Female vanity respected, recorded and women revered as the obvious source of
life? A new generation of
are abroad in our land adorning their flesh in similar manner with familiar and
ornate exotic designs that invade areas of semi exposed and ever reducing areas
of unadorned skin.
The class of
archaeological remains, called sculptured stones. These are of 3 kinds: 1 those
with incised symbols only, 2 those with in addition Celtic ornament carved in
relief, and 3 monuments with Celtic ornament in relief and no symbols. The 1st
class is the only one largely represented in Aberdeenshire and a good many
representatives are in existence. The symbols most commonly seen are the
crescent and sceptre, the spectacles, the mirror and
comb, and the so-called "elephant" symbol, a representation of a
beast with long jaws, a crest and scroll feet. Another is the serpent symbol.
What the symbols signify is still a mystery, but the fact that the stones with
symbolism are unusually common in what was known as Northern Pictland
seems to point to their being indigenous to that area. Out of 124 stones
in the first class Aberdeenshire has 42.
It would seem
as if the county had been the focus where the symbolism originated. The
richness of the locality round Kintore and Inverurie in symbol
stones is taken to indicate that region as the centre from which they radiated.
The Picardy Stone Inch Aberdeenshire one of the oldest
Stones incised with the double disc and Z-rod, serpent and Z-rod and mirror
symbols. The stone formerly stood on a small cairn containing a grave which
illustrates the use of such stones as burial markers.
Ploughed up stone in 1978 at a farm Barflat, Rhynie. The Gabbro stone
measures 1.78m long and dates between 700 and 800AD. It has an incised
figure of a man walking, an axe upon his shoulder and wearing some sort of
sleeved garment extending to just above the knee and tied around the waist by
cord. His shoes are pointed and he wears some sort of head dress. There are few
Pictish carved figures in Scotland and this is the earliest figure
carving to date found in Grampian. It now stands in the foyer of Regional
symbols used by the ancient Picts, who lived in Scotland from AD 300-843, were
an actual written language, rather than just symbology. What historians know of
the Picts has so far been gleaned from the artefacts they left behind and via
the writings of the people whom they had contact with, such as the Romans. But
if the meaning of inscribed patterns and symbols on Pictish stones and slabs can
be deciphered, the potential to learn more about ancient Scotland could be
only a few 100 surviving Pictish stones and slabs. Some of them have symbols
carved onto them like a relief. Christian motifs, such as a cross, can also be
seen on a number of them. There are also several painted pebbles, whose patterns
seem particularly perfunctory. Researchers have long grappled with the question
of what they represent. Are they mere symbols? Or are they full-fledged texts
(albeit un-deciphered) which communicate a written language?
A team of
language experts, led by Professor Rob Lee of Exeter University, analysed how
random the Pictish symbols are. If the symbols didn’t show evidence of any kind
of order, then it would be unlikely that they represented a written language,
but if the same symbols are being written in the same way over and over again,
then there is a good chance that it does communicate written language.
the amount of randomness in an un-deciphered script is difficult because there
are usually a limited number of examples (only a few hundred for the Pictish
language) and quite often these haven’t been compiled together and published.
This means that researchers have to work with small datasets, making this
analysis tricky. Working with the symbols available to them, the team was able
to determine that there is some predictability in the Pictish symbols, enough so
that it seems likely to be a written script. “It is extremely unlikely that the
observed values for the Pictish stones would occur by chance,” the researchers
said in a paper published recently in the journal Proceedings of the Royal
Society. The next step is to expand their dataset and get a record of every
Pictish symbol ever recorded. Researchers can then hone in on the language and,
hopefully, decipher it.
that the Pictish symbols are writing, with the symbols probably corresponding to
words, opens a unique line of further research for historians and linguists
investigating the Picts and how they viewed themselves,” No doubt scholars will
be hoping to discover a Scottish version of the Rosetta Stone or the
Behistun Inscriptions to help decipher the language. If the Pictish code can
be cracked, we could be about to learn a lot more about the ancient people of
Scotland, and open up our understanding of ancient Britain.
of Cadboll Stone in the Museum
The "Goose Stone" or Pictish Incised Symbol Stone
was one of the first stones to be discovered in Donaldson Hough between the
1867 by a Mr Hunter. The stone was removed
from their and built into the Farm Steading (building) of North Tillytarmont
Farm in the late
1800's. It was then removed from there in
1979 for safe keeping
to the University Aberdeen and can be viewed there by appointment. The picture
was photographed in
1954 showing it's position built into the wall of the Farm Steading.
Now while the
numbers of Class I stones there must remain impressive, it is possible to offer
a statistical argument for a more northerly origin centre. The impressiveness of
Aberdeen's numerical lead depreciates considerably when we consider statistics
relevant to the more ancient land divisions. Allen attributed 41 stones
to Aberdeenshire with its nearest rival Sutherland with 15. The new
relevant figures are: Mar and Buchan 54; Moray and Ross 42.
Moreover 16 of the 21 examples in "Cathanesia" are in SB.
Sutherland. If then, high numbers, together with normal representation in other
classes are a criterion of the origin centre, then we can look as justly to the
coastal strips round the Moray and Dornoch Firths as to Aberdeenshire. "We may
therefore conclude with probability that Class I had not long been introduced
into Forfarshire when it was changed into Class II, by the advancement of the
art, but that the advanced type took sometime to spread into Aberdeenshire where
the primitive type continued to prevail . . .
The stone was found built into a dry stone dyke on Redhill Farm,
Rothiemay by George, the grandson of farmer Alex Anton, in the middle of the
1800's. It was removed from it's location early in the
1890's and used as a
Sundial Stand in the Gardens of
Rothiemay Castle. In
1955 as the Castle was
falling into disrepair, the stone was removed, and placed with
& 3 in the garden of Whitestones House Rothiemay.
Ploughed up in
North Tillytarmont in Spring
1944 at Donaldson
Hough, Rothiemay, Scotland close to the previous find of the "Goose Stone" was
the Pictish Incised Symbol Stone
Tillytarmont 2. Unknowingly or not the stone
was placed at the side of the field where it was then forgotten. Ten years later
Dr Mackay while fishing on the
Deveron, found the stone lying where it
was left covered in weeds and grass and reported it to Mr Mitchell the Huntly
Antiquarian and on his advice this stone too was placed in Whyness Riddochs
garden at Whitestones, Rothiemay, Huntly for safe keeping. The stone still
remains there along with
Tillytarmont 3 in a cops of Trees. Although the stone
is damaged and badly weathered the Crescent and V Rod, Double Disk and Z Rod can
can still be seen.
Through various researches the incised Pictish stone known as
was possibly the stone that was discovered by Dr Grant of Huntly
in the Spring of
1867. Dr Grant unfortunately died only a few months later and
information regarding the stone and it's position was scant. The stone was
1954 by Mr Whyness Riddoch of Whitestones, Rothiemay and Mr
James Forbes lying covered in undergrowth beside the pathway to the old wooden
suspension bridge (sadly no longer there) that crosses the
Later on that same year (1954) and by the permission of the Huntly Historian the stone was removed in case of further damage to the garden
Whitestones, Rothiemay where it still remains. The stone is badly weathered
but shows the incised Crescent, Z rod and Concentric Rings.
The incised stone known as
Tillytarmont 4 was the first of two
stones that were ploughed up by Mr Allan of North, Tillytarmont Farm, Huntly,
Aberdeenshire on the 18th October
1972. The stone was found while deep ridging
at a depth of 28in in the place known as Donaldson Hough, which lies between the
River Isla and the River Deveron at Rothiemay. He then again moved around
1992 . On my visit to Boyndie
the stones had been purchased from him. They are now in the University Museum
Aberdeen. Mr Allan is pictured on the left in the second of the two photographs
taken on its discovery. The stone is incised with the Eagle and the Beast.
stone known as
was the 2nd of 2 stones that were ploughed up
by Mr Allan Milne of Nth
Farm, Nr Huntly, Aberdeenshire on the 28th
The stone again was found while deep ridging at a depth of 28in in the place
as Donaldson Hough, which lies between the River Isla
and the River Devron at at
Rothiemay. Upon his retirement in
both stones were
removed to his house at Boyndie, Nr
Banffshire and both stones, were
built into a wall in his garden.
the stones had been removed and were purchased from him and are now in the
University Museum Aberdeen. The only representation available of the stone is
this drawing Depicting the Serpent and Zed Rod the Crescent, Comb and Mirror.
Pictish Stone 2
These remaining stones depicting what is now known
as the ‘Burghead Bulls’ were thought to have adorned the ramparts of the fort or
possibly around the forts gates and are thought by some to be a symbol of
strength. Of the remaining stones, which are known,
Burghead 3 and 4 can be seen
at the Burghead Library,
Burghead 2 and 6 are in the Elgin Museum,
Burghead 1 is
in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh and
Burghead 5 is in the British Museum. There is no doubt that Burghead Fort played a dominant part in Pictish
society and must have been an important stronghold in the North for the Picts.
The fort may well have been a ‘Pictish Capital’ of Northern Pictland.
If only they had Patented the Teething Ring,
Mirror, Comb or the Brassiere
Brandsbutt Symbol Stone -
About one mile north west of Inverurie
Stone Balls 70mm in Diameter
An important, if enigmatic, type of ceremonial object which was well represented
in the North-east around 2500 BC, is the carved stone ball. Of the more
than 400 known, most have been found in the North East of Scotland
between the Rivers Dee and the Deveron - the heartland of Aberdeenshire.
The size of a tennis ball, usually with 6 protruding knobs, they are
sometimes more elaborately decorated with spirals or plastic ornament which is
similar to Grooved Ware, a type of late Neolithic pottery not
known in the north-east but common in Orkney and Fife. They were clearly
well-looked after by their owners to whom they must have conveyed status and
image seen here is of the stone ball found at Towie, Strathdon, which is
one of the most highly decorated of the balls, with a complex pattern of spirals
and concentric designs. It may be seen in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
the decoration used falls into 3 categories, those with spirals, those with
concentric circles and those with patterns of straight incised lines and
hatchings. More than one design is used on the same ball and the standard of
artwork varies from the extremely crude to the highly expert which only an
exceptionally skilled craftsman could have produced. Some balls have designs on
the interspaces between the knobs which must be significant in the context of
the speculated use of these artefacts. 26 of the 6-knobbed balls are
decorated. The Orkney examples are unusual, being either all ornamented or
otherwise unusual in appearance, such as the lack, bar one example, of the
frequently found 6-knobbed type. Metal may have been used to work some of the
designs. It has already been established that many of the late Neolithic stone
balls had a diameter
within a millimetre of each other, which indicates that
they could be used collectively in some way rather than individually. By
plotting the find sites on a map it can be demonstrated that often these petrospheres were located in the vicinity of Neolithic recumbent stone circles.
have been a respected and widely accepted commercial weight standard for a
balance, perhaps a rope or leather thong swung weapon - but then any suitably
shaped beach stone would do.
prized unit of exchangeable wealth? Ceremonial Orbs?
The Celts, those mysterious denizens of the Iron Age, buried prominent people
with wagons along with other goods. Wagons dating from about the 800 BC
to 500 BC have been found throughout Europe in places like France,
Germany, Austria and the former Yugoslavia. Artwork of the time also featured
images of wagons, which the Celts outfitted with iron tyres and pivoted axles.
This includes engravings on a couch found at the burial site of a Celtic
Chieftain, on which the dead reclined. The couch, known as the Hochdorft
kline, shows a 4-wheeled wagon drawn by a pair of horses. Seated on the
wagon is a man carrying a shield and a sword, which leads historians to believe
that wagons were used during times of war. The Hochdorf kline is housed
at the Hochdorf Celtic Museum in Germany. Along with proving helpful in
warfare, wagons during the Iron Age of the Hallstatt period (8th to 6th
centuries BC) were used for transporting goods such as mined salt. Several
carriages have also been found whose purpose appears to have been exclusively
ceremonial. The carriages feature animals and symbolic objects rather than
providing room for passengers.
upright cross-slab of grey sandstone was found in 1781 during excavations
for foundations for Dyke Church, which was constructed behind its
pre-Reformation predecessor. The stone must have been in the graveyard of the
old church. The stone was erected in Dyke village in commemoration of
Rodney's victory over the Count de Grasse (Battle of the Saints - 1782)
from which it received the name 'Rodney's Cross.' It was removed to the Park of
Brodie a few years before 1842. (J G Callander has noted in the National
Museum copy of Allen and Anderson 1903 "this stone was dug up by a
gravedigger...locally known as Rotteny..and it was from this it got its name,
not from Rodney's victory - authority of the late Rev. John MacEwan, Minister of
The stone, erected on a modern base and held upright by wrought iron struts, is
rectangular in shape, 6'4" high by 3'5" wide at the bottom and 3'2" wide at the
top. It is sculptured in relief, with Ogham inscriptions down each of the four
angles. The front bears a celtic cross with interlacing, and the
back bears symbols including fish monsters, the elephant or dolphin,
double disc and z-rod.
Rodney’s Stone is a Class II Pictish symbol stone, probably
carved in the 8th century. Along 3 corners runs the longest known Scottish Ogham
Inscription, extending for over 3m. Reused as a recumbent grave marker in
perhaps the 16th or 17th century, it was rediscovered in 1781 during the
excavation of foundations for a new parish church in the village of Dyke. Having
been erected in Dyke the following year, it was subsequently moved to its
present position in the 1820s/30s. Deri Jones Associates undertook a 3-D
laser scan of the entire stone, with further, higher resolution scans of the
ogham text/s and of strategic areas to act as a baseline for condition
monitoring between March–December 2010. Data processing by Archaeoptics Ltd is
ongoing; it is hoped that the high resolution data will allow a more complete
transcription of the ogham to be created, elucidating some of the more heavily
writing is the earliest known form of written Irish. The alphabet pre
dates the 5th century. It consists of an alphabet of 20 letters
used for stone and wood inscriptions in Celtic Ireland. The letters
consist of one to five perpendicular or angled strokes meeting or
crossing a centre line. The form of the letters allows them to be carved
easily on objects of wood and stone. Ogham was carved and read from
bottom to top.
Ogham is sometimes referred to as the Celtic Tree
Language as each letter was named after a tree the people were familiar
with, and used.Ogham inscriptions consist almost exclusively of personal
names and marks, possibly indicating land ownership, though some appear
to be memorials to the dead. Any wood Ogham inscription have, of
course, long vanished. However, there are roughly 400 Ogham inscriptions
in stone found to date, of which 330 are from Ireland. The other Ogham
stones have been found in England, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man and
The Irish had no other written alphabet until
Christian missionaries introduced Latin. Ogham ceased to be used after
the 1st few centuries of the Christian era, as the use of inscription
language was reviled as a pagan practice.