I recently went on a treasure hunt to find out what information was available in the 21st Century about the Picts. As much as I am curious, I’d much rather be outside putting my feet into the dewy grass and having the sunlight on my face, but it had to be done.
First of all, the word ‘Picts’ is a sensitive one due to the lack of written records of us, no-one really knows what we were called. The Pict name is said to have derived from a derogatory name given to us by a Roman Scholar from the Latin pingere “to paint” and we are often referred to as the “painted” or “tattooed” people. More recent scholars, such as Dr Sally Foster of Stirling University is more philosophical about our name. Have a look through her book Picts, Gaels and Scots for more information. It is a great overview of pre Scottish History and of course I feature as Figure 32!
“Much ink has been spilt over what the ancient writers meant by Picts, but it seems to be a generic term for people living north of the Forth of Clyde isthmus who raided the Roman Empire.”
Foster, S. M.,1996. Picts, Gaels and Scots. London: B.T. Batsford/Historic Scotland
As I’m really interested in technology and Woodhill House has Wifi I thought I’d start with the internet. If you put the word ‘Pict*’ into the search engine you get over 51 million results! I understand this will not all be relevant to the Picts, but still, that is a LOT of information! Of course, I couldn’t resist putting ‘Rhynie Man’ in next…..43,700, a bit disappointing but an indication that there are people out there who have heard of me.
Reading through the records that appeared showed me just how interesting we were and how little information and evidence is available on how we lived. The words ‘enigmatic’, ‘uncertainty’, ‘kings’, ‘warriors’ and ‘mysterious’ come up regularly, as do ‘savage’ and ‘barbarian’, but who knows, I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to work it out for yourselves.
There are even scientists who are interested in whether ancestors of the picts still live in the world! They say that
TEN per cent of Scottish men are directly descended from the Picts, according to a new discovery by a DNA project…
Alistair Moffat quoted by Auslan Cramb, The Telegraph, 2013
What I find most interesting about articles such as this one, are the comments and discussions that they raise. This article raised issues of ethnicity, racism, Scotland’s Independence, technical accuracy of journalism, sensationalism, politics, scottish history, the corporate world, power, kin(g)ship, community, popular press v peer review, digital dark ages, regional names, oral history, accents, matrilineal debates just to name a few. It certainly raises emotions and taped into people’s imagination; some romantically and others more critically.
Equally amusing are the representations of the Picts, from the romantically floral and un-warrior styled images to the battle scenes and our run in with other people, but what a great idea for a fancy dress party! The only real records are our Symbol Stones; fascinating and confusing and with artefacts from archaeological digs a small insight into our history. There is a lot more you can learn from us; use us as a mirror to view how you live today and think & take action about shaping your future.
The lack of evidence, information and means of interpreting findings leaves room for imagination as well as questioning, it indicates a need to establish an identity, highlights belonging and ask some critical questions over community, landscape and stewardship. Factors that are indicative of all human beings, whether they were born in the 21st Century or the 1st.