The Picts and their symbols
The Picts were descendants of Iron-Age tribes who occupied the lands north of the Forth and Clyde estuaries in the first millennium AD. We know very little about them, but lasting reminders of their existence are the more than 300 carved stones scattered across the country.
We do not know why the Picts carved and erected these stones. They may have been intended as memorials to great warriors, as boundary markers between neighbouring tribes or to represent allegiances. What is certain is that they are works of art executed by skilled craftspeople.
The earliest stones, probably dating to around AD 600, have a variety of enigmatic symbols cut directly into the surface of the stone. These stones are concentrated in NE Scotland, around the Moray Firth. The later stones, dating from after AD 700, are cross-slabs, grave-markers, grave-covers and standing crosses. On these stones, the Christian cross dominates the traditional symbols.
An undeciphered code
The 1m-high Brandsbutt Stone belongs the earlier type of Pictish stone. A rough slab of dark whinstone, its face is incised with two widely used Pictish symbols – a crescent and V-rod above a serpent and Z-rod. Rising up the left-hand side of the stone is a boldly-incised inscription in ogham (an alphabet imported by the Picts from Ireland). It is interpreted as reading: IRATADDOARENS. The inscription is possibly a rendering of a personal name – Ethernan (Adrian). More than 30 ogham inscriptions have been found in regions occupied by the Picts, dating to between the 6th and 10th centuries.
- The detail of the carving – particularly the serpent’s head and the markings on its body.
An early Pictish symbol stone, with an ogham inscription.
Find out more about Pictish Stones at www.pictishston
Region – North and Grampian
About 1m North-West of Inverurie off the A96
Grid reference – 38 NJ 759 224
Telephone 01667 460 232.