The Picts

The people known to history as the Picts, dominated Scotland north of the Forth of Clyde from the fourth to the ninth centuries AD.

They were combined in the mid-ninth century with the Scots-Irish of Dalriada (Argyll), under Kenneth McAlpine, to form the basis of Scotland as we know today. Records of their history are restricted to reports of them from other sources, such as the Irish annals and early writers, who record major events, such as their conversion to Christianity by St. Columba.

Read more about the history with examples of Pictish Symbol Stones

Art Work

The Picts are best represented in Dark Age Scotland by their characteristic art, expressed in powerful animal and geometric symbols carved on large stones, cave walls, metalwork and bones and pebbles.

The animals, apart from the possibly mythological beasts, are all clearly represented and are the animals which would have been seen in daily Pictish life.

Some of the symbols may show objects also in daily use such as mirrors and combs, bronze armlets and collars, or ring-handled cauldrons.

The common "V" and "Z"-rods represent broken arrows and spears.

The symbols, although originating in a pre-Christian basically prehistoric society, continued in use after the Picts were converted to Christianity.

Sequence of Symbols

A sequence can be seen in the Pictish stones, which runs from symbols incised on simple undressed stones (for example: Rhynie, Inverurie and Inveravon) to more elaborate slabs with a cross on one side and symbols, often carved in relief on the other side (for example: Maiden Stone, Rodney's Stone, Fordoun Stone). The sequence ends in cross slabs which may also have hunting or battle scenes, but do not have any symbols (for example: Kinord, Sueno's Stone).


A form of alphabet, called ogham (invented in Ireland before the 4th century AD), is sometimes found on the Pictish stones (for example: Brandsbutt, Newton Stone). This writing, consisting of a series of short lines cut across a main vertical, was used in different forms in Dark Age North Britain and Ireland.

Heartland of the Picts

The Heartland of the Picts can be deduced from the distribution of their symbol stones, the occurrence of place names beginning with "Pit" and the surviving written sources, to have been in the area lying between Sutherland, the Black Isle and central Aberdeenshire and Moray. Several of the promontory forts show evidence of Dark Age use, most noticeable of which is the Pictish Stronghold at Burghead.

For more suggestions of sites to visit, view our guide to 10 of the best Pictish Stones in Aberdeenshire (PDF 3.59MB).