Skip to comments.Pictish stone found by gravedigger most significant in decade – expert[Shetland]
Posted on 06/06/2008 7:58:43 AM PDT by BGHater
A PICTISH stone found in Cunningsburgh has been described as the most important archaeological discovery in Shetland for 10 years.
It was found in Mail cemetery by gravedigger Malcolm Smith, his second such find in 16 years
The sculptured stone is inscribed with mysterious symbols and dates back to the dark ages.
It is the ninth stone of its kind to be discovered in the same area in the last 130 years.
Its significance has been highlighted by Dr Ian Tait, collections curator at the Shetland Museum and Archives.
It is extremely exciting because it is a single find which was not associated with an archaeological dig. It was just found by a man in the course of his work.
It had probably not see the light of day for a couple of centuries, but we suspect it dates back to around 700AD.
The graveyard has been a centre for religious belief for 2,000 years, and may have been a centre of cultural or political power during Pictish times.
This is shown by the four stones which have been found there bearing the ancient alphabet known as ogham, and the amazing stone found in 1992 the well known Mail Stone depicting a mystery figure in dog-head mask.
In the Middle Ages the site was a burial ground, and three parts of gravestones have been found with inscriptions in Norse runes.
The meaning of the old Pictish stones would probably have been unknown by then, but the latest stone, or at least part of it, was still above ground in 1769, when somebody scratched that date on the stone.
Dr Tait said it was an extremely rare find.
We are extremely grateful to Mr Smith for having such an eagle eye and for not just putting the soil back over it. He took it to us in his Land Rover instead.
There are archaeological digs going on in Shetland every year, but single finds of significant pieces are few and far between.
The 18x11 inch sandstone slab, which is broken from a bigger stone, is inscribed with symbols on one side.
Most striking are two discs with crosses, which are connected together with a band and crossed over by a Z-shaped figure with ornate terminals.
The motifs on the latest stone are known by archaeologists as double-disc and Z-rod, one of the commonest motifs.
Double-discs often have circles within them, and sometimes spirals, but this is the only one with crosses.
If this is a Christian cross it indicates a mixed belief between the Picts indigenous religion, and their new Christian faith.
Dr Tait said it comes from a period when there were a lot of changes going on in Shetland.
He said:What is so fascinating about this stone is it comes from a time when the culture was changing. We had our own particular set up in this time, then the Pictish influcence was growing.
Day to day life did not change much but once we became part of the Pictish kingdom from Scotland, there were very impotant cultural changes in Shetland.
People got their first written language, whereas before that time there barely any symbols carved on anything. We dont know what the ancient symbols mean and I think that is absolutely fascinating.
It shows that Shetland wasnt that isolated from the outside world during the dark ages.
Meanwhile Mr Smith said he did not realise the stones significance when he found it.
I didnt think it was right to put it back where it came from because it is a matter of interest, even though it didnt seem very much at the time.
The stone will be displayed in Shetland Museum and Archives throughout June as a lead-up to the St Ninians Isle treasure loan and conference.
The treasure returns to Shetland to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its discovery, on 4th July for a three-month display.
The Pictish stone found at Cunningsburgh.
Holy Shet! Ping
I wonder what the significance of the two basketballs can be?
I thought it was a SUV being destroyed because of high gas prices.
double-disc and Z-rod - great name for a garage band, possibly with “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict”
Midnight Basketball, proposed by William MacClinton?
I see two wheels...and what may be a body being carried atop...Interesting...
An SUV with some nice 20” rims.
Looks like the deck of a push lawn mower.
It’s Fred Flintstone’s car.
It’s Front Wheel Drive as well.
I see discs, I’m still looking for the cross....
Those crosses in each circle clearly indicate some sort of temporal prime directive violation, probably a secret Nazi project.
Maybe someone can put it and the others stones in their hat and translate them.
Think of the cross on the King’s crown...
Clearly an early advertisement for the Boston Celtics!
(The Picts may have been a very early Celtic migration to the British Isles)
What was the more significant find ten years ago?
Cunning, those Picts.
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