are monumental stelae
found in Scotland
, mostly north of the Clyde-Forth line. These stones are the most visible remaining evidence of the Picts
and are thought to date from the 6th to 9th centuries.
Purpose and meaning
The purpose and meaning of the stones are only slightly understood. The stones may have served as personal memorials, with symbols for clans, lineages or kindreds. Some such as the Eassie Stone depict ancient ceremonies and rituals. A small number of pictish stones have been found in association with burials, but these were not likely their original locations. The stones may also have marked tribal or lineage territories.
The symbols may be a kind of pictographic system of writing and the earliest symbols have been suggested as a system of constellations unique to the Picts. There are about 35 different symbols on the stones. These include abstract symbols which have been assigned arbitrary descriptive names by researchers (such as crescent and V-rod, double disc and Z-rod) or outline pictures of animals (such as the adder, salmon, wolf, stag, eagle and the mythical Pictish Beast). There are also representations of everyday objects such as the mirror and comb, which could have been used by high-status males. The symbols are almost always arranged in pairs or sets of pairs, sometimes with the mirror and comb below, hence the thinking they could represent lineage or kindred (such as two parents/clans).
The symbols may rarely be found on jewelry, such as silver plaques from the Norrie's Law hoard found in Fife in the early 19th century. However, very little Pictish metalwork has survived in comparison to neighbouring cultures). The symbols are also sometimes found on other movable objects like small stone discs and bones mostly from the Northern Isles. Simple or early forms of the symbols are carved on the walls of coastal caves at East Wemyss, Fife and Covesea, Moray.
In The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland
(1903) J Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson first classified Pictish stones into three groups. Critics have noted weaknesses in this system but it is widely known and still used in the field.
- Class 1 — unworked stones with symbols only incised. There is no cross on either side. Class 1 stones date back to the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries.
- Class 2 — stones of more or less rectangular shape with a large cross and symbol(s) on one or both sides. The symbols, as well as Christian motifs, are carved in relief and the cross with its surroundings is filled with designs. Class 2 stones date from the 8th and 9th centuries.
- Class 3 — these stones feature no Pictish symbols. The stones can be cross-slabs, recumbent gravemarkers, free-standing crosses, and composite stone shrines. They originate in the 8th or 9th century.
Only a few stones still stand at their original sites; most have been moved to museums or other protected sites. Some of the more notable individual examples and collections are listed below (n.b. Listing is no guarantee of unrestricted access, since some lie on private land).
- The Craw Stane, a six-foot-high Class I stone on top of a hill near Rhynie. A salmon and Pictish Beast are carved on the south-facing side.
- Dunblane Cathedral, Dunblane — this Class III stone was found in the foundations of Dunblane Cathedral during restoration. It can be found inside the Cathedral.
- Eassie Stone, stands in the ruined church at Eassie
- Perth Museum, Perth — collection of 3 Pictish stones, St Madoes 1, Inchyra and Gellyburn.
- Inverness Museum, Castle Wynd, Inverness — collection of 8 Class 1 stones, including the Ardross Wolf and Deer's Head (two of the finest surviving animal symbols, probably originally parts of the same slab), and a fragment that matches a piece in Dunrobin Castle.
- Knocknagael Boar Stone, Highland Council HQ, Glenurquhart St, Inverness — Class 1 stone to be seen through a large window. Found at Knocknagael on the outskirts of Inverness.
- Groam House Museum, Rosemarkie — collection of fragments of Pictish stones and a Class II cross-slab. The museum also has a collection of photographs of Pictish stones in Scotland.
- Churchyard Stone, Strathpeffer — Class I stone
- Clach a'Mheirlich, Rosskeen — Class I stone in a field.
- Shandwick Stone, Shandwick — Class II cross-slab protected by glass shelter.
- Tarbat Discovery Centre, Portmahomack — large collection of excavated fragments and information about the Picts.
- Nigg Stone, Nigg inside the former parish church — Class II cross-slab. A fragment of it can be found in Tain Museum
- Tain and District Museum, Tain — Class I stone in the yard and fragments from Edderton churchyard and Nigg in the museum.
- Sharp Stone (Clach Biorach), Edderton — Class I stone in a field (probable original position), viewable from the roadside.
- Kincardine Old Church, Ardgay — coffin-shaped monument.
- Eagle Stone (Clach an Tiompain), Strathpeffer — early Class I stone.
- St. Demhan's Cross, Creich — unworked stone with a cross, not fitting in any of the classifications.
- Dunfallandy Stone (Clach an t-Sagairt, 'The Priest'e Stone'), Pitlochry — fine Class 2 stone (Historic Scotland).
- Dunrobin Castle Museum, Golspie — collection of over 20 Class I and II Pictish stones collected by the Dukes of Sutherland.
- St Vigeans Museum, Arbroath — collection of Pictish and medieval stones. Includes the Drosten Stone, a class 2 cross-slab, one of only two Pictish symbol-stones to carry a non-ogham inscription. Key from Arbroath Abbey or keyholder in village (Historic Scotland).
- Aberlemno Pictish stones, Aberlemno — three slabs by the roadside and one in the churchyard (Historic Scotland). Boxed during winter months.
- Elgin Museum, High St, Elgin — large collection, largely from Kinneddar churchyard.
- Sueno's Stone, Forres — 6.5m-high cross-slab (tallest in British Isles) dating from 9th or 10th century protected by glass (Historic Scotland).
- Meigle Pictish Stones, Meigle, near Forfar — Museum in converted school which features possibly the richest display of stones in Scotland (Historic Scotland, entrance charge).
- Tote Stone, Tote on the Isle of Skye — Class I stone in small fenced enclosure.
- Trusty's Hill, near Anwoth, Dumfries and Galloway — a series of Class II stones.