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Large Pictish cemetery in The Black Isle. Credit: NOSAS/Tarradale Through Time / Andy Hickie

Huge 1,400-Year-Old Pictish Burial Ground Found in Scotland

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In Scotland, one of the largest Pictish cemeteries ever found has been uncovered by archaeologists. It is believed to be at least 1400 years old. The find is expected to throw new light onto the enigmatic Picts who played such as critical role in the history of the British Isles.

The find was made by a team of archaeologists who are part of the Tarradale Through Time team, whose work is backed by the North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS). It was found near Muir of Ord in the Black Isle, in the famous Scottish Highlands, on some farmland. The Scotsman reports that the extraordinary find was made ‘‘after earlier aerial photography and geophysical survey suggested a range of surviving features below the plough soil’’.

Pictish Barrows

The archaeologists during their excavations have found barrows or burial mounds.  Barrows were monuments constructed with a mound of earth and stones, and are often associated with burials, though this may not have been their original purpose. They are believed to be about 1400 years old and date to when the Pictish people dominated Scotland.

There are also enclosures at the site that  range in size from about 8m (26ft) to more than 40m (131ft) reports Scot.net. Once the cemetery extended over a large area and dominated the landscape. The discovery is one of the biggest, if not the largest Pictish burial grounds, found to date. Some fragments of bone and charcoal have been unearthed at the site.

In the general area there have been many finds related to the Picts. Steven Birch, the site director, told the BBC the find was made not long after the ‘‘discovery of a previously unrecorded Pictish stone about six miles (10km) away’’. The cemetery is also near the medieval Rosemarkie monastic settlement which is renowned for its magnificent Pictish carvings.

The Mysterious Picts

The Picts are a little-known and enigmatic people. They are named after the Latin for picture and this was because they painted their bodies and used ornate body art.  It is widely believed that they were related to the original inhabitants of Britain before the Roman occupation. They dominated most of modern-day Scotland.

The Picts were renowned for their ferocity and they fought the Romans for centuries. Rome built the Antonine and the Hadrian defensive walls, to defend their British Province from their attacks. The legions briefly occupied parts of Pictish territory but they failed to conquer them despite many attempts. However, the Picts were not just warriors; they are also famous for their sculptures and artwork, which have mysterious symbols that have yet to be deciphered. They were eventually absorbed into the Scots, a tribe from Northern Ireland, who invaded modern day Scotland in the 9 th century AD.

Hand-colored version of Theodor de Bry’s engraving of a Pict woman (public domain)

Hand-colored version of Theodor de Bry’s engraving of a Pict woman ( public domain )

Prehistoric Finds

The site is not only revealing new insights into Pictish period in the Scottish Highlands. According to the BBC “The project has previously found a harpoon or spear along with axes made by hunter-gatherers in the Highlands 6,000 years ago’’. The harpoon may have been used to hunt birds and fish in the Stone Age.  The tools are all made from the antlers of red deer. Steven Birch, stated that "We are looking at a large potentially Pictish barrow cemetery, where there also appears to be some earlier prehistoric activity” reports the BBC.

The archaeologists are continuing their investigations at the site and they are particularly interested in how it evolved over time.  Carbon dating is being carried out to date the bones and other organic material found. This, it is believed, can help the researchers to understand the story of the cemetery and how it was related to other Pictish sites in the general area. This could lead to new insights and a greater understanding of the people who defied the Romans and who played an important role in the history of the Scotland.

Top image: Large Pictish cemetery in The Black Isle. Credit: NOSAS/Tarradale Through Time / Andy Hickie

By Ed Whelan

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