Back in 1986, archaeologists excavating a site at Bridge of Tilt near Blair Atholl, in Scotland, came across a long cist burial. And inside this cist-type tomb (comprising a stone-built compartment), they were able to discover the remains of a 40-year old man. Analysis of the skeletal remnants during the time revealed that the man lived some time between the epoch circa 340 to 615 AD, thus corresponding to the Pictish period of Scotland. In fact, the assessment alluded to the possibility that it was one of the earliest Pict graves ever found by archaeologists.
And now, after more than 30 years, the collaborative effort between GUARD Archaeology in Glasgow and forensic artist Hayley Fisher, has endowed a visual angle to the decades-old discovery. The result translates to a digital facial reconstruction of the Pictish man who lived around 1,500-years ago. The recreation is currently on display at Perth Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Picts and Pixels exhibition. According to lead archaeologist Bob Will –
The actual burial was found in the 1980s and a certain amount of work was done then. But various members of the local community and groups wanted to do more, so they got in touch to take the project forward and one thing they wanted was a facial reconstruction. That is what got the ball rolling on that one. We then approached Historic Environment Scotland and they gave us a grant as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 to help pay for this project, and we’ve been working on it for two years. The facial reconstruction is based on the skull at the time and it has helped us to identify a number of features, such as a strong brow and chin.
And while the facial reconstruction does provide an estimated idea of how the man looked, there is still much to know about the history that lies ‘behind the face’. And the researchers at GUARD Archaeology look forth to continue their work on unraveling the mystery by using techniques like DNA analysis and isotope analysis. As Will added –
We are working with archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen on isotope analysis to help us find out more about his health and where he came from – we can track where they moved about and see if he was born somewhere else. We’ll hopefully be able to start that in the next six to eight months. We’re looking forward to see what comes out of that.
From the historical perspective, it should be noted that ‘Picts’ is often used as a blanket term, and as such in they did not belong to any particular tribe. Comparable to the lineal structure of the Huns of late antiquity, these Picts were rather 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.
Reverting to the potential for more discoveries pertaining to the Picts, the archaeologists are expected to be back in Highland Perthshire by next month, to carry out further assessment of the burial site in Bridge of Tilt. And in case you are interested, in a separate project, University of Dundee forensic researchers were able to reconstruct the face of a Pictish murder victim who probably lived around 1,400-years ago.
A Pictish cross-slab from 8th century AD –
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