The Picts and sculptured stones

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Picts were the people who lived north of the rivers Forth and Clyde from the late 3rd century until the mid 9th century AD.


There is very little archaeological evidence for the Picts and much of what we do know about them has come from the study of their art. This is mostly on sculptured stones, but is also found on cave walls and some metalwork.


The dating of the stones has been much debated but an overlapping chronology of the three groups is generally agreed. The stones have been grouped by archaeologists into 3 main types:

Class 1

These are rough boulders which have incised abstract or animal symbols . These date from the 6th and 7th centuries AD and are associated to a pre Christian phase.

Class 2

These are shaped stones with symbols carved in relief and usually include a Christian cross on one side. Usually a hunting or battle scene appears on the reverse side. These date from the 7th to the early 9th century AD and are associated to early Christianity.

Class 3

These are usually free standing crosses without symbols but they have elaborate decorative carving. These date from the mid 9th century and later and are associated to the period after AD843 when the Picts were united with the Scots.


The symbols which appear on the class 1 and class 2 groups include familiar figures such as the serpent or fish and also imaginary animals such as the Pictish beast. There are also abstract symbols such as the mirror and comb, the double disc and the Z rod. We do not know the meaning of the Pictish symbols.


The most likely purpose of the stones is that they were grave markers, also few have been found on top of graves or perhaps boundary markers. The Battle and hunting scenes on some Class 2 stones may commemorate particular events in Pictish history.




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