In the News….

P&J coverageP&J 08.09.15


A student at Gray’s School of Art has attempted to get under the skin of one of the country’s most enigmatic figures as part of her Masters project.

Anne Murray (Photo Credit: Ray Smith)Anne Murray, a creative practitioner about to finish an MFAContextualised Practice degree at Gray’s, has created a 21st century persona, complete with blog, Twitter account and film, for Rhynie Man – the name bestowed on a six-foot tall Pictish stone carving of a warrior discovered in the Aberdeenshire village in 1978.

The project, which was launched a year ago, has seen Anne working to raise awareness of Rhynie Man – which stands in the Aberdeenshire Council headquarters at Woodhill House in Aberdeen – among the local community via social media channels and engagement with local schoolchildren on various arts projects.

She has also created a map of the area which highlights areas of historical significance and set out on a ‘pilgrimage’ tracing a route from Aberdeen to Rhynie as a way of marking the stone’s spiritual return to the village.

An archaeological dig is currently on-going in Rhynie as part of the bid to discover more about the stone’s origins and the significance of the site.

Anne said: “We know very little about the Picts and it appears they used other means of communication such as their enigmatic symbol stones. Archaeologists are at an early stage of learning about them and this creates the opportunity for artists to be creative and playful.

Rhynie Man“Working with the artist collective Rhynie Woman and Aberdeenshire Council, I first set out to create a stronger presence for Rhynie Man in the community and help create awareness of the stone and its significance.

“This took the form of a blog, written in the first person by Rhynie Man, as well as a Twitter account. I also spent a day with the local school children creating Valentine’s cards and poetry for Rhynie Man which were then hand delivered to him at Woodhill House.”

She added: “The route that I am walking as part of Rhynie Man’s spiritual journey home takes in a number of other standing stones with carved symbols.

“Using the images on these stones, I have created a story about Rhynie Man’s journey home featuring six of the symbols and also created laser etched ‘alms’ to give out along the route to passers-by, as was the tradition of pilgrims.”

A stop motion film – ‘Rhynie Man: The Movie’ – created by Anne to tell the story of the stone was screened in the village on August 31, which posed an open question to the community.

“It asks them what they want to happen to Rhynie Man,” Anne explained. “It is a way of opening up that conversation and the project up until this point has really been laying the groundwork for that debate. This is just the beginning of what will be an on-going project. ”

Anne’s work is currently on display at Gray’s School of Art as part of the ‘C³: Collaborative Contextual Conversations’ exhibition showcasing a range of work by current full and part time Masters students. The show runs until Friday, September 11.

“I have set up the space so that visitors are effectively entering Rhynie Man’s enclosure, as the man himself,” Anne said. “As you come into the space, there is a full sized vinyl cut out on the floor of Rhynie Man which is his shadow being thrown as he comes into the room, then people must trace his route home from Aberdeen to Rhynie.”

On display as part of the exhibition are a number of objects linked to the project, including a hand carved staff, the laser etched alms and the stop motion film.

Looking back at the Masters course, Anne said: “It has been hard work, no one can deny that. I have enjoyed being challenged and reflecting on my own practice and seeing how my art fits into the world – it has been a really, really useful experience.”

Release by
Jenny Rush Communications Officer | Design and Technology

In the News….

Pictish technology: Something old and something new

The reconstructed axe created by SSW
The reconstructed axe created by SSW

I’m having a look through some of the photos Anne has been taking over the past few months; ones that stick out for me are the ones with tools in them.  The SSW reconstructed axe is amazing and gave the makers and archaeologists a chance to get hands on with the weight of the object as well as experiencing and seeing the sheer amount of effort it took to transform ground into metal.

Helmsdale (5)

Another interesting place was at Timespan in Helmsdale, where they have reconstructed a smithy and other spaces from

150 years ago (that) capture many aspects of a way of life – now long gone.  Each reconstruction has its own audio narrative including a Gaelic lullaby and recollections about one of Helmsdale’s best loved blacksmiths.

The blacksmith’s space was the one that brought back the most amount of memories, it’s sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere were encapsulated into the narratives and video and took me right back.

Helmsdale (92)

The 14 second video gives you an idea of the sound an anvil makes.  Imagine a lot of them being used in the landscape of Rhynie and the Northern Picts.


When I talk to people about the Picts in the landscape, they imagine the stones, and maybe people doing their daily work, but few think about the sights, sounds and smells of what would have been there.  Imagine the sound of the bellows…

Helmsdale (90)

the roar of the fire…

Lumsden turf to tools (11)

and the smell of Rhynie Woman baking, cattle being cooked, possibly a tannery not to mention the latrines!  The sound I miss the most is the sound of the wind, something that Barflats has a lot of and on very special days, the sound of birds and smell of the Gorse.

// gorse sunshine

Returning to the smithy, can you see any familiar shapes?  do you recognise any of the tools in the Symbol Stones? like this one at Abernethy in Perthshire?  what do you see?  a tuning fork, hammer, anvil? or something else?

Helmsdale (89)

Perhaps us Picts weren’t that different from the people of today?  even though you’ve moved on in your making techniques the traditional crafts were around for thousands of years before the industrial revolution.  ‘Modernisation’ broke the tasks of making into their component parts and aimed, in the pursuit of profit, to disconnect people from making objects and ultimately their connection to where they were made completely.  What would happen if you had to go back to this way of working in the future?  How would you manage?

Have a look at some of today’s Traditional Skilled Makers in the Northern Picts area, these skills continue to be used and could link back directly to the Picts and other groups of crafts people that lived before and after us in the landscape.

Pictish technology: Something old and something new

Lasers and learning about new technology


As you are probably aware, us Picts were great with technology!  admittedly, it was mainly Iron working but we loved making things and Rhynie would have been filled with the ringing of the anvil and whoosh of the bellows.  The 21st Century is a little bit quieter, but equally as productive.  And as you can see above they love their symbols as well.


It always amazes me how Archaeologists work with the two extremes of technology, on one hand they use field walking and digging and on the other they are working with the latest LIDAR surveys and Geophysical Scanning.  Today I was looking at things they use called computers, which in some ways reminded me of Ogham, with their 1 and 0s.  The latest technology available to use at @MAKEAberdeen included wonderful contraptions like laser scanners, 3D printers, digital embroidery machines and digital etching contraptions.  Back in the 600s we did similar things with metal, but used our own approaches – mould making, casting and etching with tools or possibly acid.


The photo above is of an item found in the Norrie’s Law Hoard – an item made of silver with intricate etching. It looks as if it was made yesterday and could have been tooled or etched with acid.  The Pictish Stones site describes the Hoard as follows:

A hoard of silver found at Norrie’s Law, Fife in 1819 included two leaf-shaped metal plaques, engraved and enamelled with Pictish symbols, as well as decorated pins and other items. A fine silver chain, a serpent-like bracelet and more pins were discovered at Gaulcross, Banffshire in 1840.

Wooden Etches 6 symbolsThe amount of skill, work and eyesight that went into the silverwork is astonishing.  These discs of wood are etched using a powerful laser and took a few minutes to etch and cut, the silverwork above would have taken a really long time to make, not to mention the cost of the silver.  They must have been made for a very rich and special person in Pictland.

laser etching cookie printer

As ever, how could I leave myself out!  This is a very special illustration of me for the very lovely Rhynie Woman, Daisy.  She is an exquisite baker and I’m looking forward to seeing myself on her lovely cookies.  Rhynie Man biscuits

Needless to say, I’ve got loads more ideas of gifts to make for Rhynie Woman and the people of Rhynie, tune in later this week for the second installment.  But in the meantime, here’s a teaser for future plans.


Lasers and learning about new technology

On the hunt for the Picts – Part Two

Travelling around Aberdeenshire, I’ve been looking out for symbol stones and how they are interpreted in the area.  Having started off in January at Crafting Kingdoms, a fantastic exhibition at Aberdeen University’s King’s Museum (37 miles to Rhynie), I was really encouraged and enthusiastic to search further afield and headed out into Aberdeenshire to find Museums and visitor centres. Unfortunately, I had been spoilt by the temporary exhibition at the University, I was sadly disappointed.  With such a unique, long and interesting history of people living in this area, I had to really search very widely to find out more about them.


Going by Aberdeenshire Council’s website Huntly’s Brander Museum (9 miles from Rhynie) has staffing issues and is not currently open, Archaeolink (13 miles from Rhynie) and Pictavia (58 miles from Rhynie) were both pre-history parks that finally closed in 2013 and 2014 respectively, all, sadly, have not reopened despite community interest.

The nearest museum to Rhynie, with Pictish information and artefacts on permanent display, was in Elgin (37 miles from Rhynie), across the border into Moray.  A brilliant Independent and award winning museum, not without it’s own financial problems, yet a lot of interesting collections and themed sections that kept me busy for ages finding out about what has happened in this area over the centuries.  Although they had a great collection of Symbol Stones, their map only referred to places in Moray and stopped at the borders missing out Rhynie just over the hill as well as a host of other sites between Elgin and Aberdeen to the south and Elgin and Orkney in the North.


Going beyond the North East and into the Highlands, there are at least five further Museums with Pictish connections; Tarbat Discovery Centre, Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie Timespan in Helmsdale, Caithness Horizons and the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall.  I will update you on what I found in Timespan and Orkney at a later stage, but it sounds like a great trip to do, perhaps one day I’ll get to go on the train and take in the old landscape.

In the meantime, Rhynie is buzzing with anticipation of the archaeologists returning in the Summer and of course this is accompanied by another opportunity to test out Rhynie Woman treats, walks and activities, who needs to go anywhere else to find out about the Picts.  If you cant get to Rhynie then Tarbat Discovery Centre have just launched an interesting book which you can find on ebay which has introduced me to what they call the Northern Picts……an interesting read!

Elgin Museum (29)
I think I might have some competition!
On the hunt for the Picts – Part Two

From Turf to Tools

Last August I went along to visit Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden, just down the road from Rhynie.  SSW was established in 1979 by sculptor Fred Bushe, RSA OBE.  Their website describes their purpose.

SSW is a making and thinking facility – offering the time, space, support and facilities to artists from all backgrounds to develop their practice, with an emphasis on experimentation and exploration of sculpture within the expanded field.

The project they have been working on at the time was called From Turf to Tools, it is an ongoing investigation into landscape, material and craft, inspired by local archeological investigations in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire.

The collaboration of Scottish Sculpture Workshop artist Eden Jolly and master blacksmith Darrell Markewitz, with Dr. Gordon Noble, archeologist at University of Aberdeen, will seek to recreate a ceremonial axe – as seen on the Rhynie Man standing stone – through smelting and forging locally sourced materials. Two writers, Maxime Hourani (Lebanon) and Deirdre O’Mahony (Ireland) will document the collaborative research process

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The event was spectacular and reminded me of when I was growing up in Rhynie, not just what they were doing but the sounds, sights and smells were so evocative.  What a great way of bringing our history alive.

@SSW photo of Darrell Markewitz with the axe and my good self – not a bad likeness

The axe let the experts and public see how it could have potentially been used and they concluded that it was more likely to be ceremonial and not an axe for cutting wood, perhaps it was for knocking beasts over the head with!  I’m still keeping them guessing, but through the making process they are getting a closer understanding of how we lived and the considerable effort and skill we employed in making our tools.  We were a sophisticated bunch!

From Turf to Tools

On the hunt for the Picts – part one.

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 , 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.Picts in pictures

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.

On the hunt for the Picts – part one.

I said I’d been on the telly!

The Alston Family kindly shared a recording they have treasured for a long time.  It describes the official launch of my residency in Woodhill House, Aberdeen.  Back in the day, before the creation of Unitary Authorities (1996 onwards) there were Regional Councils which were a two-tier local government; in my area it was named Grampian Regional Council and was made up of a number of smaller District Councils. Rhynie fell into the Gordon District (named after the Gordon Family who established themselves in the area in the 15th Century – but that’s an entirely different story).grampian televisionThis part of the North East also had its own Regional Television channel and news; Grampian Television, which formed in 1961, covered the area north of the Tay and continued as an Independent Television Network until 1997 and finally subsumed into the Scottish Television branding by 2006.

For locals of the North East, the dulcet tones of John Duncanson, with his regular ‘Oidhche Mhath’ at the end of the programmes was a daily messenger of news. Here he is describing my movement from Rhynie to Woodhill House.

I said I’d been on the telly!