Pictish stone is a type of monumental stele, generally carved or
incised with symbols or designs. A few have ogham inscriptions.
Located in Scotland, mostly north of the Clyde-Forth line and on the
Eastern side of the country, these stones are the most visible
remaining evidence of the
Picts and are thought to date from the 6th
to 9th century, a period during which the
Picts became Christianized.
The earlier stones have no parallels from the rest of the British
Isles, but the later forms are variations within a wider Insular
tradition of monumental stones such as high crosses. About 350 objects
Pictish stones have survived, the earlier examples of
which holding by far the greatest number of surviving examples of the
mysterious Pictish symbols, which have long intrigued scholars.
2 Purpose and meaning
3 Gallery of symbols
4 Distribution and sites
4.1 Class I
4.2 Class II
4.3 Class III
5 Gallery of stones
6 See also
8 External links
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. In particular, the
classification may be misleading for the many incomplete stones. Allen
and Anderson regarded their classes as coming from distinct periods in
sequence, but it is now clear that there was a considerable period
when both Class I and II stones were being produced.
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
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 century.
Class 3 — these stones feature no idiomatic Pictish symbols. The
stones can be cross-slabs, recumbent gravemarkers, free-standing
crosses, and composite stone shrines. They originate in the 8th or 9th
Scotland describes this class as "too simplistic"
and says "Nowadays this is not considered a useful category. A
surviving fragment may belong to a monument that did include Christian
Later Scottish stones merge into wider medieval British and European
Purpose and meaning
The Class I
Dunnichen Stone, with Pictish symbols including the
"double disc and Z-rod" at centre, and "mirror and comb" at the
The purpose and meaning of the stones are only slightly understood,
and the various theories proposed for the early Class I symbol stones,
that are considered to mostly pre-date the spread of Christianity to
the Picts, are essentially speculative. Many later
from Class II and Class III fall more easily into recognisable
categories such as gravestones. The earlier symbol stones may have
served as personal memorials or territorial markers, with symbols for
individual names, clans, lineages or kindreds, although there are
several other theories, and proposed explanations of the meanings of
the symbols. A small number of
Pictish stones have been found
associated with burials, but most are not in their original locations.
Some later stones may also have marked tribal or lineage territories.
Some were re-used for other purposes, such as the two Congash Stones
near Grantown-on-Spey, now placed as portal stones for an old
graveyard. The shaft of an old cross is lying in the field. Another
Pictish stone, the
Dunachton Stone near Kincraig, was later used as a
door lintel in a barn. This was discovered when the building was
dismantled in 1870. The stone was re-erected in the field. Recently it
fell, after being photographed in 2007, but was re-erected again a few
years later by the owner of
Class I and II stones contain symbols from a recognisable set of
standard ideograms, many unique to Pictish art, which are known as the
Pictish symbols. The exact number of distinct Pictish symbols is
uncertain as there is some debate as to what constitutes a Pictish
symbol, and whether some varied forms should be counted together or
separately. The more inclusive estimates are in excess of sixty
different symbols, but a more typical estimate is around thirty, or
"around forty" according to Historic Scotland. These include
geometric symbols which have been assigned descriptive names by
researchers such as "crescent", "V-rod", "double disc and Z-rod",
"mirror and comb", "triple disc", and outline representations of
animals such as the adder, salmon, wolf, stag, eagle, as well as the
apparently mythical Pictish Beast, perhaps intended as a
sea-monster. There are also representations of everyday objects such
as the mirror and comb, which could have been used by high-status
Picts. The symbols are almost always arranged in pairs or sets of
pairs, often with the object type, such as the mirror and comb, below
the others, hence the thinking they could represent names, lineage or
kindred (such as two parents/clans). According to Anthony Jackson the
symbol pairs represent matrilineal marriage alliances. The animal
group are generally only found in combination with the abstract
The symbols are found on some of the extremely rare survivals of
Pictish jewellery, such as the pair of silver plaques from the
Norrie's Law hoard found in
Fife in the early 19th century, and the
Whitecleuch Chain. 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. It is
therefore thought likely that they were represented in other more
perishable forms that have not survived in the archaeological record,
perhaps including clothing and tattoos. Some symbols appear across the
whole geographical range of the stones while, for example, six stones
with the single symbol of a bull found at
Burghead Fort suggest that
this represented the place itself, or its owners, despite other
examples appearing elsewhere.
A team from Exeter University, using mathematical analysis, have
concluded that the symbols in the Pictish image stones "exhibit the
characteristics of written languages" (as opposed to "random or
sematographic (heraldic) characters"). This claim has been
criticized by linguists
Mark Liberman and Richard Sproat on the
grounds that the non-uniform distribution of symbols - taken to be
evidence of writing - is little different from non-linguistic
non-uniform distributions (such as die rolls), and that the Exeter
team are using a definition of writing broader than that used by
linguists. To date, even those who propose that the symbols
should be considered "writing" from this mathematical approach do not
have a suggested decipherment. However, earlier studies based on a
contextual approach drawing on the identification of the pagan
Christian Celtic Cult of the Archer Guardian have been able to
suggest possible clausal meanings for symbol pairs.
Gallery of symbols
A selection of the Pictish symbols, showing the variation between
individual examples. Each group is classified as a single type by most
researchers. Only the geometric and object types are represented here,
not the animal group.
Pictish Symbol Stones, V-Rod with Crescent design
Pictish Symbol Stones, Z-Rod with Double Disc design
Pictish Symbol Stones, 'Mirror Case' design
Pictish Symbol Stones, 'Comb' design
Pictish Symbol Stones, Horseshoe/Arch design
Pictish Symbol Stones, Notched Rectangle design
Distribution and sites
Distribution of Class I and Class II stones, as well as caves holding
Pictish symbol graffiti
The Nigg Stone, 790–799 AD, Class II, shows a Pictish harp, beasts
and warriors in a 19th-century illustration, minus the top section.
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 (Note that
listing is no guarantee of unrestricted access, since some lie on
private land). Pictish Symbol stones have been found throughout
Scotland, although their original locations are concentrated largely
in the North East of the country in lowland areas, the Pictish
heartland. During the period when the stones were being created,
Christianity was spreading through
Scotland from the west and the
south, through the kingdoms of Dál Riata, which included parts of
Ireland, and the extension into modern
Scotland of the Anglo-Saxon
Bernicia and Nothumbria.
Areas that show particular concentrations include Strathtay,
Strathmore, coastal Angus, Fife, Strathdee, Garioch, Moray,
Strathspey, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Hebrides,
Two Pictish Class I stones are known to have been removed from
Scotland. These are
Burghead 5 (Moray), showing the figure of a bull,
now in the British Museum, and the Crosskirk stone (Caithness),
presented to the
King of Denmark
King of Denmark in the 19th century, but whose
location is currently unknown.
Aberlemno 1 (The serpent stone), Aberlemno, Angus. Boxed during winter
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
Dunnichen Stone, a class I stone found at Dunnichen, Angus, now on
display at the
Meffan Institute in Forfar. A replica stands at its
former position in front of
Tain and District Museum, Tain — Class I stone in the yard and
Edderton churchyard and Nigg in the museum.
Inverness Museum, Castle Wynd,
Inverness — collection of 8 Class I
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 I stone to be seen through a large window. Found
at Knocknagael on the outskirts of Inverness.
Strathpeffer — Class I stone
Clach a'Mheirlich, Rosskeen — Class I stone in a field.
Tarbat Discovery Centre,
Portmahomack — large collection of
excavated fragments and information about the Picts.
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 Class I stone.
Tote Stone, Tote on the
Isle of Skye
Isle of Skye — Class I stone in small fenced
Brandsbutt Stone in
Inverurie — Class I stone
East face of Class II Maiden Stone
Aberlemno 2 (The kirkyard stone) – in the churchyard at Aberlemno,
Angus. Boxed during winter months.
Aberlemno 3 (The great stone) – at the roadside, Aberlemno, Angus.
Boxed during winter months.
Drosten Stone – Rare example of a
Pictish stone with an inscription
in Latin text. At St Vigeans, Angus.
Dunfallandy Stone (Clach an t-Sagairt, 'The Priest's Stone'),
Pitlochry – fine Class II stone (Historic Scotland).
Eassie Stone, stands in the ruined church at Eassie.
Groam House Museum,
Rosemarkie – collection of fragments of Pictish
stones and a Class II cross-slab. The museum also has a collection of
Pictish stones in Scotland.
Fordoun Stone, in the vestibule of Fordoun parish church, Auchenblae
there is a Class II 'Pictish' cross-slab which had been used as the
base of the pulpit of the church of 1788. The face bears a Latin
cross, part of a 'sea monster', a double-disc and Z-rod, a hunting
scene with three horsemen and dogs, and two inscriptions, one in
Hiberno-Saxon minuscules (on the face) and the other in Ogam (on the
Hilton of Cadboll Stone, now in the National Museum, with a replica at
the original site. One of the finest pictorial stones
Kirriemuir Sculptured Stones, now on display at the Meffan Institute
Maiden Stone, at the roadside in Aberdeenshire. Boxed during winter
Nigg Stone, Nigg inside the former parish church – Class II
cross-slab. A fragment of it can be found in Tain Museum
Trusty's Hill, near Anwoth,
Dumfries and Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway – a series of
Class II stones.
Shandwick – Class II cross-slab protected by glass
St Orland's Stone, near Kirriemuir, Angus.
Woodwrae Stone, from Woodwrae, Angus, now at
Museum of Scotland,
Pictish stone in
The Camus Cross, high cross near Carnoustie.
Cross high cross at St Serf's church, Dunning.
Dunblane — this Class III stone was found in the
Dunblane Cathedral during restoration. It can be found
inside the Cathedral.
Forres — 6.5m-high cross-slab (tallest in
Scotland) dating from 9th or 10th century protected by glass
Hilton of Cadboll Stone
Hilton of Cadboll Stone in the
Museum of Scotland.
Dunrobin Castle Museum,
Golspie — collection of over 20 Class I and
Pictish stones collected by the Dukes of Sutherland.
Elgin Museum, High St, Elgin — large collection, largely from
McManus Galleries, Dundee. Collection of class I and III stones.
The Meffan Institute, Forfar
Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum, Meigle, near Forfar
Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Perth Museum, Perth — collection of 3 Pictish stones, St Madoes 1,
Inchyra and Gellyburn.
Pictavia, near Brechin
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).
Gallery of stones
Aberlemno 1; Class I
Aberlemno 4; Class I
Brandsbutt Stone; Class I with ogham inscription
Eagle Stone; Class I
Fiskavaig Stone; Class I
Invereen Stone; Class I
Strathmartine Castle Stone; Class I
Gairloch Stone; Class I
Eassie Stone; Class II
Woodwrae Stone; Class II
Aberlemno 3, front face; Class II
Aberlemno 3 rear face detail; Class II
Monifieth 1; Class II
Hilton of Cadboll Stone
Hilton of Cadboll Stone (replica); Class II
Dupplin Cross, Class III
Monifieth 4; Class III
Camus Cross; Class III
Carved Stone Balls
^ a b c d Pictish Stones, "The Symbols"
^ Allen, J.R.; Anderson, J. (1903), Early
Christian Monuments of
Scotland, Balgavies, Angus: Pinkfoot Press (1993 facsimile)
^ a b Pictish Stones, "Types of Stone".
^ Forsyth, Katherine (1997), Henry, David, ed., "Some thoughts on
Pictish Symbols as a formal writing system" (PDF), The Worm, the Germ
and the Thorn. Pictish and related studies presented to Isabel
Henderson, Balgavies, Forfar: Pinkfoot Press, pp. 85–98,
ISBN 978-1-874012-16-0, retrieved December 10, 2010
^ a b Fraser, Iain (2008), The Pictish Symbol Stones of Scotland,
Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancienct and Historic Monuments of
^ a b Jackson, Anthony (1984), The Symbol Stones of Scotland,
Stromness, Orkney: The
^ Graham-Campbell, James (1991), "Norrie's Law, Fife: on the nature
and dating of the silver hoard" (PDF), Proceedings of the Society of
Antiquaries of Scotland, 121: 241–259, retrieved November 25,
^ Clark, J Gilchrist (1880), "Notes on a Gold Lunette found at
Auchentaggart, Dumfriesshire, and a Massive Silver Chain found at
Whitecleugh, Lanarkshire, exhibited by His Grace The Duke of
Buccleuch" (PDF), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland, 14: 222–224, retrieved August 1, 2010
^ Wainwright, F.T. (1955), Wainwright, F.T., ed., The Problem of the
Edinburgh and London: Nelson
^ Ravilious, Kate. "Mathematics of ancient carvings reveals lost
language". New Scientist.
^ Lee, Rob; Jonathan, Philip; Ziman, Pauline (31 March 2010), "Pictish
symbols revealed as a written language through application of Shannon
entropy" (PDF), Proceedings of the Royal Society.
^ Liberman, Mark (April 2, 2010). "Pictish Writing?". Retrieved 17
^ "Ancient symbols, computational linguistics, and the reviewing
practices of the general science journals" (PDF). Computational
Linguistics. Retrieved 17 September 2010.
^ See now the recent hypothesis about, based on the Shannon entropy,
in: Rob Lee, Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman, "Pictish symbols
revealed as a written language through application of Shannon
entropy", Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical
and Engineering Science, 2010 (published online 31 March 2010):
abstract, and open access to the article. The press new in New Written
Language of Ancient
Scotland Discovered. "Once thought to be rock art,
carved depictions of soldiers, horses and other figures are in fact
part of a written language dating back to the Iron Age. A new written
language, belonging to the early Pict society of Scotland, has just
been identified" (J. Viegas, News in Discovery.com, Wed Mar 31, 2010).
^ Griffen, Toby D (March 2000). "The Pictish Art of the Archer
Guardian" (PDF). Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Celtic
Studies Association of North America St Louis, Missouri. Retrieved 30
^ Griffen, Toby D. "The Grammar of the Pictish Symbol Stones" (PDF).
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Retrieved 30 May
^ Ellen MacNamara, The Pictish Stones of Easter Ross, Tain, 2003
^ Dougla Scott, The Stones of the Pictish Peninsulas, Hilton Trust,
Pictish Stones website from Historic Scotland
The Highland Council Archaeology Unit — This webpage offers a
leaflet in PDF-format about a Pictish Trail from
Inverness to Golspie
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of
Scotland — RCAHMS is the principal source of collections for
Scotland’s archaeology, buildings and maritime heritage, including
University of Strathclyde[permanent dead link] — Pictish Stones
Search Facility, a useful catalogue of the stones.
New Written Language of Ancient
Scotland Discovered. Another take on
the symbols and images as "part of a written language dating back to
the Iron Age".(J. Viegas, News in Discovery.com, Wed Mar 31, 2010).
Pictish sculptured stones
Edderton Standing Stone
Hilton of Cadboll Stone
Portmahomack sculpture fragments
Rosemarkie sculpture fragments
Badenoch and Strathspey
Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire
Broomend of Crichie stone
Logie Elphinstone Stones
Nether Corskie Stone
Newbigging, Leslie Stone
Newton House Stones
Aberlemno Sculptured Stones
Glamis Manse Stone
Hunter's Hill Stone
Kirriemuir Sculptured Stones
Monifieth Sculptured Stones
St Orland's Stone
St Vigeans Sculptured Stones
Strathmartine Castle Stone
Perth and Kinross
Meigle standing stones
Dálriata / Alba
Iron Age Britain /
Roman Britain / Sub-Roman Britain
Gaul / Roman
Gaul / Brittany
Brigantia (ancient region)
Warfare (Gaelic warfare)
Modern Celtic nations
Pan-Celticism (Celtic Congress
English words of Celtic origin
Spanish words of Celtic origin
Galician words of Celtic origin
French words of Gaulish origin