If there’s anything likely to bring roadworks to an abrupt halt, it’s the appearance of a semi-naked man holding a weapon in each hand.
That’s exactly what happened on the A9 north of Edinburgh, when a stone carving of a figure walking right to left, holding a spear in their right hand and another club or spear in their left hand, was spotted by workers during a massive roadworks project in Perth and Kinross.
Work was temporarily stopped to allow archaeologists to inspect the stone, and to check for any further archaeological evidence. They’ve said the spear in the right hand looks like typical mid-first millennium AD weaponry, but the one in the left hand is less clear.
They’ve also said the figure appears to be wearing a cloak and shoes, and has a very pronounced hair style, with a shaven front scalp. Although the figure’s face is obscured by wear to the stone, he is also described as having a rather large nose.
The stone was inspected by Mark Hall, of Perth Museum and Art Gallery, who said Pictish carvings like this had not previously been found in the area. However, similar ones showing single figures with grotesque faces and holding one or more weapons have been discovered in Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and Islands and Shetland.
No Pictish archaeological sites are known in the immediate vicinity of where the new carving was found, but the stone does suggest the presence of a powerful noble locally.
A spokesperson for Perth and Kinross Council said: “The fearsome figure probably served to warn travellers and visitors that they were approaching his residence or territory.
Councillor Ian Campbell, leader of Perth and Kinross Council, said: “I am led to believe Pictish symbol stones come in many shapes and sizes, and date broadly to the sixth to eighth centuries AD.
“I understand very little is known about the purpose of Pictish stones and the real meaning of the symbols they carry. In terms of their function, theories include their serving as grave markers or memorials to Pictish nobles, or their standing as territorial markers.
“I look forward to hearing what the experts conclude from their examination of this clearly fascinating stone.”
David Strachan, of Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, added: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the finders of the carving for drawing it to our attention.
“This is a really significant find as there are very few such stones known in Scotland. It’s a signal of the importance of the area in Pictish times.”
The stone is currently in safe keeping, awaiting a suitable place at a museum to be chosen in the next few weeks.
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