They were named the Picti, or ‘painted people’ by the Romans who clashed regularly with them throughout the fourth century but there is still much to learn about the Pitcish kingdoms which were once some of the most influential players in northern Britain.
A new project by the University of Aberdeen will explore for the first time the archaeology of the most powerful kingdom of the Picts – the kingdom of Fortriu.
Up until a few years ago it was thought Fortriu was based in Perthshire but recent work has placed the stronghold much further north, in the Moray Firth area. This would suggest the people of northern Scotland were powerful figures prior to the formation of the country we now call Scotland.
Over the next four years a programme of fieldwork will target the rich archaeological resource that the Picts and the Kingdom of Fortriu left behind.
As part of an exciting new collaboration, the results of the archaeological work will be displayed at the Tarbat Discovery Centre, which currently displays the results of one of the biggest ever Pictish site excavations – the Pictish monastery at Portmahomack which is thought to be one of the major early churches of the Kingdom of Fortriu.
"We are incredibly excited about our new links with the Tarbat Discovery Centre and our exciting new initiative on the archaeology of the Tarbat peninsula and wider environs”, said Dr Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen and director of the new project.
“Martin Carver's excavations at Portmahomack uncovered an incredibly rich record of a Pictish monastery in the 7th-9th centuries AD. Our work will put the monastery in its wider context, investigating for the first time the archaeology of the Pictish Kingdom of Fortriu, the most powerful Pictish kingdom that had its powerbase in the Moray Firth region.
“Our project combines fieldwork research investigating the emergence of the early kingdoms of Scotland with initiatives that will allow the Discovery Centre to continue to showcase research on the Picts and the heritage of the Tarbat peninsula to a wide audience.”
The project will examine the Pictish cross slabs at Shandwick, Hilton and Nigg and will attempt to understand the power structures that led to the formation of these early kingdoms.
Preliminary excavations of a hillfort at Easter Rarichie, led by project manager Oskar Sveinbjarnarson and Candy Hatherley, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, have revealed a remarkable stone-walled structure that may be an important settlement dating to the Iron Age or Pictish period.
Tony Watson, the Chairman of Tarbat Discovery Centre said: “The importance of the carved stones is already well-known but they didn’t happen just in isolation but were part of a far bigger picture that started centuries before the monks and Christianity arrived in Portmahomack.
“These are really exciting times for the Centre and the wider area and this long-term research programme should bring many unknown and neglected sites to a wider audience.”
Results of the project, which has been supported by a major donation to the Universities’ Development Trust, will be displayed at the Tarbat Discovery Centre over the coming four years and on the forthcoming new website for the centre.
Members of the community are being encouraged to get involved in some of the research projects on the Tarbat peninsula and beyond.