Aug 07, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Fort Built by Mysterious Ancient ‘Painted People’ Unearthed

Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen have unearthed an ancient fort once used by the Picts, a mysterious tribal society in Iron-Age Scotland. The fort lies on a peninsula near the town of Lossiemouth on Scotland’s northeastern shores and is believed to have been a major seat of power for the Pictish people who likely used it as a stronghold sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D.

The site appears to be a longhouse that was once part of a larger coastal fort.

As the Picts integrated and assimilated into greater Scottish society, the fort fell into ruin and a town called Burghead Fort was built on top. It was previously believed that the entire fort was destroyed, but archaeologists have now found entire floors and sections of fort walls remaining below ground.

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The site is still being excavated.

Dr. Gordon Noble, Head of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, is leading the excavation. In a university press release, Noble says that the ruins of the fort might be able to give archaeologists some clues about the little-understood Pictish civilization and its architecture:

The assumption has always been that there was nothing left at Burghead; that it was all trashed in the 19th century but nobody’s really looked at the interior to see if there’s anything that survives inside the fort. But beneath the 19th century debris, we have started to find significant Pictish remains. We appear to have found a Pictish longhouse. This is important because Burghead is likely to have been one of the key royal centres of Northern Pictland and understanding the nature of settlement within the fort is key to understanding how power was materialised within these important fortified sites.

One of the most interesting finds at the site is an ancient English coin dating to the reign of Alfred the Great who ruled from 871 to 899 and fended off Vikings during the height of their raids.

The coin dates to a time when contact with Viking cultures led to great changes in Pictish societies.

The name for the Pictish peoples comes from the Latin word picti, meaning “painted” or “tattooed,” although it’s still unclear what that term might have referred to. Some historians believe the Picts might have been less of a formally organized group and more of a loose confederation of tribes who were forced to cooperate against a common enemy as the Roman empire expanded into their territory.

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Depiction of a Pictish raid on Hadrian's wall.

By the 11th century, however, the Pictish language and tribal identity had fully assimilated with Gaelic culture. Since then, historians and archaeologists have only had scattered clues with which to piece together this part of Western history. The fort might only be a fragment of the story of the Picts, but it serves as a reminder that the history of human civilization is much more complex than we know today.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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