The Pictish Symbol Stones

Ilctish symbols date from the seventh century, and although some of the animal-symbols have been linked to other Celtic representations, many

The Piets were one of the most fascinating and enigmatic peoples of Celtic Europe. They occupied the east and north of Scotland from before the Roman occupation of southern Britain until their amalgamation with the Scots in the mid-ninth century. Their greatest legacy was a large quantity of standing stones covered with symbols or depictions of people or animals, interwoven with decorative features such as Celtic scrollwork. Although these stones have been extensively studied, their true meaning remains as enigmatic as the Picts themselves.

Pictish stone monuments and sites.

I he symbol stones have become a source of fascination for scholars. Like the Irish crosses of around the same period, the earliest earn' incised decoration, usually one or more of a range of about 50 symbols. These symbols represent real or mythical animals, possible domestic objects such as a mirror and a comb, and a range of abstract designs. These symbols were not found exclusively on the symbol stones, and similar depictions are

ORKNEY 'K . .r islands 7 metal artifacts.

A survey of approximately 160 symbol stones has revealed that the symbols rarely appear on their own, but are usually grouped in pairs, one above the other. The usual combination is an animal-svmbol paired with an

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• Dumbarton abstract-symbol, but occasionally three or four symbols are grouped together • on a stone.

There is no geographical correlation to the symbols, so it is unlikely that they have any territorial significance. It is generally assumed that these are exclusively found in Fictland.

Archaeologists have grouped the stones into three categories. The first consists of non-dressed standing stones, carrying incised decoration, usually in the form of the symbols described above. A second group has been linked to the spread of Christianity among the Picts because they carry Christian crosses in relief, while the third type contains relief scenes depicting people and events. These groups are misleading, since the types overlap chronologically, just like the stone crosses in Ireland, and cannot lie linked to separate phases of artistic development. Some of the symbols found on plain incised symbol stones are repeated on Christian stones. Whatever their function, these Pictish symbol stones provide scholars with more questions about the Rets than they provide answers for.

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