The Mysterious Pictish Stones

Blog 4 Feb 2021

Take a trip up to North-East Scotland, passing through the beautiful Borders and journeying into the Highlands, you may find you come across some beautifully carved Pictish stones and find yourself wondering what they are.

Pictish Stones are the last remaining evidence of the ancient picts; a group of Celtic-speaking people, or ancient Scots. The stones date back to the 6th Century, around the time the Picts discovered Christianity, and feature beautiful carvings; detailing a glimpse of what life was like for these ancient peoples. Without these stones, we would know very little about the Picts indeed!

There is a marked difference between the eldest stones, predating Christianity, and stones which have clearly come to pass once the Picts were Christianised.

The stones are known to archaologists as Class I, Class II and Class III:

  • Class I stones date back to as early as the 6th Century. They are compiled of symbols representing everyday things, with no visible Christian imagery.
  • Class II stones are notably from the 8th-9th Century. They feature visible crosses alongside Pictish symbols previously seen on Class I stones.
  • Class III stones are the 'youngest' of the three. They have come to pass after the adoption of Christianity for these ancient Scots. No pictish marks can be seen and instead the stones are carved into crosses and used as grave markers and shrines.

What did the pictish stones represent for early Scots?

On the earliest stones, the symbols were geometric and represented animals such as stags, wolves, eagles and even mythical beasts.

Other symbols represented everyday items, such as mirrors and combs, and were used to depict class status in Pictish society.

Unfortunately this is about as much as what is understood from these ancient stones. Class I stones that predate Christianity invite much speculation. It is said some stones may have been associated with burials, and others to have tribal or lineage associations.

Where would I be able to see some of these stones?

Many of the pictish stones have been taken to museums for preservation, however few do still remain in the landscapes on which they were first erected.

  • Aberlemno sculptured stones, Aberlemno, Angus
  • Brandsbutt symbol stone, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire
  • Dunfallandy Stone, Pitlochry, Perth and Kinross
  • Dupplin Cross, Dunning, Perth and Kinross
  • Dyce symbol stones, Dyce, Aberdeenshire
  • Eassie sculptured stone, Glamis, Angus
  • Fowlis Wester sculptured stone, Crieff, Perth and Kinross
  • Hilton of Cadboll (replica stone), Hilton, Invergordon, Highlands
  • Knocknagael Boar Stone, Inverness, Highlands
  • Maiden Stone, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire
  • Picardy symbol stone, Huntly, Aberdeenshire
  • Sueno’s Stone, Forres, Morayshire