Pictavia -The land of the Picts
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Did You Know?

The Picts get their name from the Romans, who called them Picti - meaning "The Painted People" in Latin.

Angus Pictish Trail Guide

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Pictish Arts Society Final Lecture of the Season

The final lecture in the 2011/2012 season of the Pictish Arts Society will be given at Pictavia, near Brechin, by Dr Oliver O’Grady on Friday 16 March.

Dr O’Grady’s experience as an archaeologist has covered a wide range of roles including stints in local authority planning, commercial geophysics, the heritage sector and the Historic Land-use Assessment team of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. He acquired degrees in Medieval history and archaeology at the University of Glasgow, where he attained a PhD, completing the first national study of Scotland's earliest legal meeting places. His long-standing interest in medieval central places and the role of the early church therein, have led to well publicised projects at Royal Scone. Now working as a heritage consultant and independent researcher based in Perth, his talk explores the initial findings from his latest project, which has been investigating the role of lesser known early Christian monasteries in southern Pictland.

The title of his talk is: "Yew make me feel so young: The latest from Pictish Fortingall.

As part of his wider study of the archaeology of early Pictish and Gaelic monasteries in mainland Scotland, funded by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Dr O’Grady believes he has found an important royal monastery dating from the time when the Picts were converting to Christianity more than 1,300 years ago.

The site is at Fortingall, in Highland Perthshire, where volunteers from the local Breadalbane Heritage Society joined forces with Dr O’Grady last summer to investigate crop marks forming a circular boundary around the village. Two exploratory trenches revealed the remains of a wide bank that may once have stood as high as two metres, faced with large upright stones. Dr O’Grady believes that the bank was built to enclose a vallum monastery, which would make it a very early site, dating from somewhere between the 6th and the 8th centuries AD.

A geophysical survey carried out within the enclosed area indicates the remains of a major settlement, with many internal divisions and possible dwellings. Slag deposits were also found during the dig, a clear indication of metal-working in the monastery. Perhaps the star find of the summer was a glass bead found embedded in the surface of a substantial Pictish road passing though one of the enclosure’s main entrances. Dr Ewan Campbell, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, has identified this as an imitation of an Anglo-Saxon ‘traffic light’ bead, so called from its green, amber and red banding.

Perhaps dating from the 6th-century, the bead is yet further evidence of an early date for any monastery on the site, contemporary with the lives of the first missionaries who brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland, the best-known being St Columba, who founded the monastery in Iona in AD 563.

Fortingall is already renowned for its large collection of early Christian grave markers with Pictish designs, and an early hand-bell in Irish style dating from the 7th or 8th centuries. The church, dating from 1902, nevertheless retains its much earlier dedication to St Coeddi, the fourth abbot of Iona (died 712). Within its own walled enclosure in the churchyard is an ancient yew tree, which some claim is Europe’s oldest (estimates of its age range from 2,000 to 5,000 years old).

Dr O’Grady believes that all the evidence points to Fortingall having been a major Pictish cultural centre that was perhaps targeted for conversion by early Christian missionaries from Iona, and that became an important site for the development of intellectual life in Scotland, for dynastic gatherings designed to affirm royal political power and a focal point for craft and trade as well as prayer.

Dr O'Grady said. 'Hopefully this research will shed some more light on what really is something of a black hole in Scottish archaeological investigation, the role of early historic monasteries in Pictish elite secular society.'

Doors open at Pictavia at 7.00 pm for a 7.30 pm start. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available before and after the talk. The talk is free to members and £2.50 to non-members.