An amateur metal detectorist may have discovered a forgotten relic of a long-dead ancient civilization which once thrived in what is today northern Scotland. The relic is a massive stone standing 6 feet tall (2 meters) and covered in what appears to be engravings made by the Picts, a tribal people who often clashed with the Roman Empire as it expanded into what is now Great Britain. Little of their writing survived the test of time, so the Picts today remain a somewhat mysterious civilization.
The stone was initially discarded as rubble by construction crews working on the Barmuckity Business Park just outside Elgin, Scotland until detectorist Wayne Miles spotted the markings and immediately recognized the stone as a “once in a lifetime” find:
There is quite stunning imagery on the stone and I have been smiling ever since I found it. I’ve only ever seen things like this in the museum and it is a mysterious thing. It was dug up by local development workers at Barmuckity who didn’t know what it was and they dumped it on the side of this scrap land I walk through every day and after scraping away at it a bit, I found the images on it.
Pictures of the stone posted to Facebook by the Pictish Arts Society show several different markings etched into its face. One of the etchings appears to depict an eagle or other large bird, while others aren’t so clearly identifiable - at least by someone unfamiliar with Pictish iconography as I am. Archaeologists are still working to verify the authenticity of the markings. If they are confirmed as genuine, the stone will be a significant contribution to the small body of Pictish art known to historians.
The term “Pictish” is thought to originate from the Latin word picti meaning “painted” or “tattooed,” leading to a common belief that the Picts may have adorned themselves with tattoos or paint - although historians still aren’t conclusively sure why that particular word was given to these loosely confederated tribes of people. It’s also still unknown if the Picts were a formally organized group or a group of separate tribes who were forced to cooperate against the common enemy the Roman Empire presented.
Between those conflicts with the Roman Empire and the spread of Christendom in Scotland, the Pictish culture eventually disappeared as the dominant Scot culture began to take hold at the end of the first millennium. Today, little is known of the Picts outside of what was written about them by cultures with whom they fought. Could this stone someday help shed further light on the mystery of the Picts?