Quick update more to follow

Further updates will arrive over the next few days, but from what I saw today there are some really exciting finds starting to emerge including a stone that looks like it was used to polish leather as well as potentially other crucible and amphora shards.  The archaeologists have busy on the site and there seems to be even more flags.  The pop up pictish cafe is now open for visitors until next Saturday, so pop along between 10 and 5pm every day with tours at 2pm.

Quick update more to follow

Pictish Holidays beyond Rhynie: a quick trip to Orkney.

Items found in previous Rhynie digs
Items found in previous Rhynie digs, on show at Crafting Kingdom exhibition Aberdeen University 2015.

It always amazes me that people think we didn’t travel before the 10th Century.  Fair enough, we didn’t have aeroplanes and mountain bikes, but we were aware of other places and if we didn’t travel ourselves, we found out from those that travelled past us.  Objects that have travelled from the mediterranean, including some vessels that may have contained wine, have been found in Rhynie.  What the archaeologists haven’t managed to work out is how we got hold of them, what we traded for them or were they acquired in another way?

What do you think was the quickest way to get around in Pictish times?  How about on foot, horse, boat?  How long would it take you to get to Orkney, with no cars, helicopters or ferries?  Us Picts were brave and hardy souls, the journey to Orkney reminded me, just how brave we were, if only I could remember the natural remedy we used for sea sickness!?

Photo of a flat stone engraved with a half human half animal figure carrying an axe © Shetland Museum and Archives

Next time I visit Orkney, I’ll need to head even further north and visit Shetland to catch up with my Pictish cousin, Mail.  However, I think I need to wait until I’ve got my sea legs back.

Pictish Holidays beyond Rhynie: a quick trip to Orkney.

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.

Keep on digging…

St Luig to Barflat Field

Parking at the Old Churchyard at St Luig’s, the pathway runs from Manse Road to the Moss Woods alongside Barflats. This is the view from the North East towards Barflats Field where Mollie and Leonie were digging earlier in the week.

Archaeologists have found two other Pictish stones in this field – The Craw Stane (which is not that difficult to miss) and Rhynie Stone 8 found a month after I was in 1978.  Eight symbol stones (so far) have been found in Rhynie, a ‘Very Royal Place.’

In a week of test pitting, by Thursday decisions are being made on what needs to be looked at more closely. Two of the test pits have been backfilled after records and images were taken. The dig now focussed on the East test pit Lindsey and Jordon started earlier in the week and plans were being made to dig an additional test pit to the south which showed up some interesting readings on Oskar’s Geophysics report.

test pit in barflats field

You have to dig really deeply to find anything in the Barflats field.  This pit was around one meter deep by three meters long.

East Test Pit Barflats FieldLindsey working hard to find out whether the test pit shows anything interesting.  Oscar described it as a Cairn, this is the term used for anything from  ‘a pile of stones’ to something much more interesting.  The stones sat below the ploughed line, where ground has been disturbed over the past 1500 years, in a rough arc.  The pit was dug across the feature as a way of determining whether this would be an interesting place to investigate further in the summer.

cairn evidence removed from trench

Some of the stones removed by (mainly) Lindsey and Oscar from the cairn, as a first year Lindsey was on a steep learning curve learning about the skills of an archaeologist, Rhynie Woman cakes, tools such as the different types of archaeological trowel and the ultra technical approach – give it a bit of welly!

mini Rhynie Man stone?

It’s amazing to think that the last time someone touched these stones Scotland possibly didn’t exist as a unified country!   The shape of this stone reminds me of something….A mini Rhynie Man.

The digging continues on Friday and we look forward to seeing all the archaeologists back in September – lets hope for good weather and lots of interesting finds.  For more information on the dig please get in touch via Aberdeen University Archaeology Department.  We’ll be looking for volunteers and of course Rhynie Woman will be there to fill us all with cake and creativity.  Full plans and a pop up information stand will be at the Rhynie community gala on the 15th August 2015.  See you there…..

Keep on digging…