'Remarkable' Ancient Carved Stone Gives Clues to Dark Age Scots

Archeologists have found a rare symbol stone thought to have belonged to a community known as the Picts around 1,500 years ago.

The Picts—a name thought to refer to "painted ones" in Latin since they had a habit of painting their bodies with dye—were a large community in Dark Age Scotland, which seems to have disappeared from history around the end of the first millennium.

Until then, they were able to resist the conquests of both Romans and the Angles and took part in the Battle of Dun Nechtain in the year 685, which is considered by some historians to have led to the foundation of Scotland.

Today, the Scottish region of Aberlemno is known for its Pictish heritage due to a collection of Pictish standing stones.

In early 2020, archeologists from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland were conducting geophysical surveys in a farmer's field in Aberlemno in order to better understand the history of existing stones.

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As part of their work, they dug a small test pit to see whether the remains of any buildings could be present, but they quickly came upon a carved Pictish symbol stone measuring 5.5 feet long. According to the university, it is one of only around 200 known.

Work to study the stone further was hindered due to the COVID pandemic, but the researchers were eventually able to estimate that the stone dates to around the fifth or sixth century. This year, they were able to remove it from where it was found.

It was an emotional moment when the stone was discovered—none of the university researchers had ever found a symbol stone up until that point despite years of research.

"There was lots of screaming," research fellow James O'Driscoll who initially discovered the stone said in a university press release. "Then we found more symbols and there was more screaming and a little bit of crying!

"It's a feeling that I'll probably never have again on an archaeological site. It's a find of that scale."

Professor Gordon Noble, who leads the project, said it was very unusual to stumble upon such a stone during a dig, noting that they are occasionally found accidentally by farmers or construction workers. In such cases, the environment they are in has already been disturbed by the time archeologists can have a look.

"To come across something like this while digging one small test pit is absolutely remarkable and none of us could quite believe our luck," Noble said. "The benefits of making a find in this way are that we can do much more detailed work in regard to the context. We can examine and date the layers underneath it and extract much more detailed information without losing vital evidence."

The stone has been moved to lab in Scotland's capital city Edinburgh where more detailed analysis will take place.

In other archeological news, a Roman mosaic around 1,800 years old was recently discovered beneath the streets of London.

And, as reported earlier this year, researchers unearthed a 4,000-year-old board game from the Bronze Age during an excavation in Oman.