Sunday, August 13, 2017

Millennium Old Structure Unearthed at Medieval Pictish Fort in Scotland

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists have recently uncovered the traces of a millennium old building at the location of the Pictish fort of Burghead in Moray, Scotland. The fort dates back to the time of Alfred the Great and was thought to have been largely destroyed by 19th century development.

 Notable Pictish Fort Unearthed
Experts have concluded that the fort was possibly a major source of power for the Pictish kingdom between 500 and 1000. Many notable Pictish artifacts including the Burghead Bull carvings and a mysterious underground well were discovered in the area during the 1800s, but since then it had long been speculated most of the Pictish remains were destroyed when a new town was built on top of the fort at this time. The University of Aberdeen archaeologists overseeing the dig at Burghead Fort near Lossiemouth in Moray, however, have a different opinion and the dig they started in 2015 at Burghead is now uncovering many important clues about the Picts as Live Science reports.

Archaeologists have recently unearthed the traces of an ancient Pictish fort in Scotland underneath an 1800s-era town. (Credit: University of Aberdeen)

The team recently unearthed a Pictish 1,100-year-old longhouse within the fort. Not much is known about Pictish architecture so the new finding could provide very significant information as to the character of Pictish domestic architecture and the nature of activity at major forts such as Burghead. Professor Gordon Noble, Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, stated as Live Science reports, “Beneath the 19th century debris, we have started to find significant Pictish remains. We appear to have found a Pictish longhouse. This is important because Burghead is likely to have been one of the key royal centers of Northern Pictland and understanding the nature of settlement within the fort is key to understanding how power was materialized within these important fortified sites.”

Excavation site at Burghead (Credit: University of Aberdeen)

Coin of Alfred the Great Found Within the Building
Within the floor layers of the building, an Anglo-Saxon coin of Alfred the Great was found, a fact that indicates the age of the house and fort as the coin dates to the late ninth century when Viking raiders and settlers were leading to drastic changes within Pictish society. Dr. Gordon Noble told Heritage Daily, “There is a lovely stone-built hearth in one end of the building and the Anglo-Saxon coin shows the building dates towards the end of the use of the fort based on previous dating. The coin is also interesting as it shows that the fort occupants were able to tap into long-distance trade networks. The coin is also pierced, perhaps for wearing; it shows that the occupants of the fort in this non-monetary economy literally wore their wealth. Overall these findings suggest that there is still valuable information that can be recovered from Burghead which would tell us more about this society at a significant time for northern Scotland – just as Norse settlers were consolidating their power in Shetland and Orkney and launching attacks on mainland Scotland.”

A coin dated to the era of Alfred the Great was found in the remains of a Pictish fort in Scotland. (Credit: University of Aberdeen)

What do we Really Know about the Picts?
Truth is that we don’t know many things about the Picts, as not much has remained from their peculiar and enigmatic civilization. For that matter, we don’t really know what they called themselves since it was the Romans who “baptized” them Picts (meaning painted people), due to the many characteristic tattoos they had painted all over their bodies.

As a previous Ancient Origins article reports, the Picts have often suffered from the biases of the times, which led to the overgeneralization of their society. Roman historians usually portrayed the Picts as warriors and savages, but contemporary historians are not entirely sure if their Roman counterparts were being as objective as they should with their descriptions. As much as they are known for their body art, the Picts are also known for the variety and quantity of sculpture and artwork that they left, a proficiency that defies their early reputation as uncivilized warriors.

A Pictish Man Holding a Human Head by Theodore de Bry (Public Domain)

Bruce Mann, an archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service, said about the new finding as Live Science reported, “Burghead Fort has long been recognized as being an important seat of power during the Early Medieval period, and is known as the largest fort of its type in Scotland. Its significance has just increased again with this discovery. The fact that we have surviving buildings and floor levels from this date is just incredible, and the universities’ work is shedding light on what is too often mistakenly called the ‘Dark Ages’,” implying that the Picts were not as uncivilized as the Romans depicted them to be and have most likely left enough culture behind them, that we just haven’t discovered yet. The dig has been carried out in conjunction with the Burghead Headland Trust and with support from Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service.

Top image: Burghead, recognized as an important seat of power during the Early Medieval Period (Credit: University of Aberdeen)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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