21/11/2016
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Northern Scotland Picts revealed as intellectual leaders

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The early residents of the fishing village of Portmahomack offered a 'highly sophisticated response' to politics in the rest of Britain and continental Europe, a new archaeology study has revealed.

Read our feature on the best places to see Pictish carvings in Scotland.

The Portmahomack Project, which began in 1994, has uncovered evidence that between the sixth and the sixteenth centuries, the little fishing village of Portmahomack was reinvented respectively as an elite settlement, a monastery, a Viking trading place, and a medieval township.

Now, a new book Portmahomack on Tarbat Ness: Changing Ideologies in North-East Scotland presents findings which suggest sophisticated settlements inhabited by intellectual leaders and master craftsmen.

PROMINENT PLAYERS IN MEDIEVAL SCOTLAND

The lead director, Professor Martin Carver of the University of York, explained: “The Picts emerge from our excavations as prominent players in early medieval Britain. In the 7th century, finds included a horse harness matched at the Anglo-Saxon royal burial site at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia, while in the 8th they are refining techniques for the production of vellum and vessels of precious metal used in early Christian ritual. And the monumental sculpture made in Easter Ross is the most accomplished known from anywhere in early Christian Europe”.

The Portmahomack site is now know to have been the site of a previously unknown 8th century Pictish monastery which was destroyed by Vikings in 800 AD. It recovered almost immediately, emerging as a secular trading place serving new masters but using the old monastic metal-working techniques.

In the following centuries, the inhabitants turned to arable farming, fishing and iron working in a series of villages beside their parish church of St Colman. The excavation of the church itself offers a story of nine centuries of varied Christian worship.

ABOUT THE PORTMAHOMACK PROJECT

The project was carried out by the University of York in partnership with FAS-Heritage Ltd, and funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Highland Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, National Museums of Scotland and the University of York.

The results were published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The project was initiated by the Tarbat Historic Trust, who initially invited Professor Carver to Portmahomack, and were involved throughout. The publication was authored by Professor Carver and Cecily Spall.

To purchase the book, visit the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland website. For more on the Tarbat Discovery Centre, visit their website.

(Images copyright Historic Environment Scotland/Portmahomack project. From top: fragment of an inscribed Pictish cross; excavation work under St Colman's Church; 'head box burial' discovered at the church)

 

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