A discovery actually made in the beginning of this year, has finally been announced by the researchers – and it entails the incredible find of a Pictish stone. Intricately carved with a cross and a dragon motif (also known as the Pictish beast), the stone was rescued from an eroding cliff face, situated on Orkney’s eastern coast. As for the rarity of this 8th century AD object, technically termed as a Pictish cross slab, the discovery pertains to only the third specimen to be found on the islands.
The salvaging project was carried out by Orkney Research Center for Archaeology (ORCA), in collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland. According to Nick Card, Senior Projects Manager at ORCA (as said to the Scotsman) –
Carved Pictish Cross Slabs are rare across Scotland with only 2 having been discovered in Orkney. This is therefore a significant find and allows us to examine a piece of art from a period when Orkney society was beginning to embrace Christianity. Now that the piece is recorded and removed from site, we can concentrate on conserving the delicate stone carving and perhaps re-evaluate the site itself.
In that regard, Pictish cross slabs are more commonly associated with ‘mainland’ Scotland, especially in the Highlands and Aberdeenshire. Interestingly enough, the ‘cross’ element of the stone certainly alludes to the early period of Christianity in Orkney, thus corresponding to a fascinating epoch in northern Britain that still has its fair share of mysteries when it comes to history. This cross is flanked by a dragon (or beast) depiction, while being accompanied on the reverse (hidden) side with another Pictish beast that has its beak open to possibly grasp the remains of a staff.
Now interestingly enough, while archaeologists concur that the stone was carved by the craftsmanship of a Pict, the Picts in themselves did not belong to any particular tribe. Much like the Huns of late antiquity, they were a confederation of different tribes, most of whom dwelt within the confines of northern Scotland from 3rd to 9th century AD and were probably ethnolinguistically Celtic.
And finally, coming back to the ‘third’ Pictish cross slab of Orkney, the stone is expected to undergo its conservation process. To that end, the good news for history aficionados is that the artifact might be displayed for the public at a future date.