Monday, October 14, 2013

Pictish burials found at ‘Royal Rhynie’ site

The grave of what could be a member of early Pictish royalty has been discovered as part of an archaeological dig in northeast Scotland.

The discovery is one of the few made in this area and was found in a carefully made grave lined with sandstone slabs, suggestive of a high status burial.

Legacies of the Picts

The Pictish Kingdoms that emerged in northern Scotland in the post-Roman period (c.AD 400-900) were important political players both regionally and on a European scale.  The major legacies of the Picts include some of the most spectacular archaeological sites and artistic achievements of Early Medieval European society.

Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, has long been known for its eight carved standing stones including the renowned ‘Craw Stane’. Previous digs have uncovered rare examples of Mediterranean imports and intricate metalwork which add to the theory that the area was a former Pictish centre of power.

The latest discovery, made during the Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project (REAP), is the first time remains of a body have been uncovered at the site.

Preserved skeletal material

“We found elements of the legs, pelvis and jaw bone which we recovered and are now analysing in the lab,” explained project leader Dr Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen.

“It’s extremely rare to find any human remains from this era in the northeast of Scotland as the soil in this part of the world is so acidic. One of the graves had been carefully made from split sandstone slabs to create a cist and the stone lining and collapsed capstones helped to preserve skeletal material.

Unlike Anglo-Saxon areas to the south, the tradition in Scotland was largely for unfurnished burial so rich grave assemblages are not expected.

“The nearby presence of the settlement near the Craw Stane strongly suggests these may have been burials of high status individuals and that Rhynie was, like other political centres, a landscape of power rather than a series of individual sites.”

The remains will now be studied using a raft of scientific techniques including radiocarbon and stable isotope analysis, if the level of bone preservation is sufficient.

Northern Picts as major players

The Pictish heartlands and main powerbase were long assumed to lie in central Scotland but recent research has suggested the most cited Pictish kingdom, Fortriu, was based in the Moray Firth area and as such the northern Picts may have been major players during this time.

Shards of medieval imported glass from the west of France were also found near the remains during the latest dig at Rhynie.

Dr Meggen Gondek of the University of Chester added: “The imports along with the presence of evidence for fine metalworking, suggest that Rhynie is a high-status site dating to the early stages of the development of the post-Roman kingdoms in northern Europe. The 5th-6th century dates for Rhynie places it in the centuries immediately following the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain.”

Past Horizons. 2013. “Pictish burials found at ‘Royal Rhynie’ site”. Past Horizons. Posted: September 9, 2013. Available online:

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