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 Pictish symbol stone found on the bank of River Don, Dyce, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Scottish Fisherman Discovers a “Stunning” Pictish Symbol Stone on Riverbank


The level of the River Don in Dyce, Aberdeen, Scotland has dropped significantly after the extended spell of warm weather which “exposed the ancient relic,” – a Pictish symbol stone, according to a report in The Scotsman. Aberdeen University archaeologists responded to the fisherman’s sensational claim and subsequently confirmed that he had indeed made a “very significant find.”

Pictish Symbol Stones

The Picts were a tribal confederation of peoples who lived in what is today north eastern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods, between the 6th and 8th Centuries AD. Their wonderfully carved symbol stones are interpreted in various “classes” and the example lifted from the River Don is categorized as a “Class I Pictish symbol stone” created between 6th to 8th Centuries AD and displays a range of symbols including a “triple disc with cross bar, a mirror, and a notched rectangle with two internal spirals.”

The find is typical of the rare Pictish symbol stones found in Scotland

The find is typical of the rare Pictish symbol stones found in Scotland. (Image: HES)

These stones are found throughout eastern Scotland, from Shetland in the north to the Firth of Forth in the south, and they are “incredibly rare.” Their symbols are believed to represent the names of individuals or groups and it is thought they may have served several community functions including acting as territorial boundary markers. This new one which was found in a river will add to archaeologists understanding of what the symbols originally meant to the Picts who carved them into boulders and slabs of carefully shaped free-standing stones.

A free-standing symbol stone. ‘Serpent Stone’, Aberlemno, Scotland.

A free-standing symbol stone. ‘Serpent Stone’, Aberlemno, Scotland. Class I Pictish stone. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Long Summer Brought “Stunning” Symbol Stone to the Surface

A team of archaeologists from Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Aberdeenshire Council and The University of Aberdeen recovered the stone and Bruce Mann, local authority Archaeologist for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, said:

The exceptional summer has led to river levels being at their lowest for decades, so there was always a chance that something new would be found. However, I certainly didn’t expect a find as stunning as this.

Kirsty Owen, Deputy Head of Archaeology at HES, told reporters at The Scotsman: “We’re very excited by this find, made all the more remarkable by the brief window of opportunity we had to recover the stone before the water levels rose again. “ The streams, rivers and lochs in the UK are so low that archaeologists recently told reporters at The BBC, “recent dry weather has given them the best chance since 1976 to detect new sites from the air.”

Dave Cowley from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: "We depend on dry years to bring out the buried remains in the crops” and so far this year the dry weather has brought out marks in crop fields across central and southern Scotland which has led to the discovery of “Iron Age structures in the Borders, and a temporary Roman camp near Peebles,” according to the BBC report.

The stone was removed from the river before the ‘brief window of opportunity’ closed.

The stone was removed from the river before the ‘brief window of opportunity’ closed. (Image: HES)

This stone is the latest ancient find resulting from dry weather and highlighting just how rare this stone is, Gordon Noble, Head of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, commented in the The Scotsman article: “Although there is a corpus of more than 200 of these stones across Scotland, each one is unique and this is a fantastic example which enables us to fill some of the gaps in the record and helps us to trace the development of literacy in north-east Scotland. As such, it is a very significant find.”

Picts: Part 1- Symbols and Signs

The lack of written material in Pictish does not indicate a pre-literate society and Pictish iconography depicts monks reading and writing books. While literacy was not widespread in northeastern Scotland, it certainly was within monasteries and among the senior clergy. The modern Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Barney Crockett, told reporters:

The Pictish symbol stone is yet another example of how lucky we are in Aberdeen in having such amazing history on our doorstep.

A report detailing the environmental circumstances surrounding the stone has been sent to the Crown Office’s Treasure Trove Unit and it has been recovered from the river and finds temporarily accommodation in Edinburgh while the claimants line up to permanently house this rare national treasure which is sure to be a major tourist attraction next summer.

Top image: Pictish symbol stone found on the bank of River Don, Dyce, Aberdeen, Scotland.      Source: HES

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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