An ancient Pictish stone has been rescued from an eroding cliff face in Orkney. The tablet, which was buried for centuries before being unearthed during a storm, is only the third of its kind found in the islands. The stone was discovered earlier this month by archaeologist Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark and is believed to be around 1300 years old.

It has the image of a cross flanked by a dragon on one side and a beast with the remains of a staff in its mouth on the other.

3D Model of ancient Pictish Dragon Stone

The front face of a Pictish cross slab modelled moments after the stone was lifted and the cross revealed for the first time. The face has not been cleaned and the design it partly concealed by adhering soil, but the form of the cross and the S-dragon to the bottom left are clear. More detail will be visible once the face has been cleaned and conserved. The stone measures 0.85m+ long by 0.55m wide and 0.09m thick.

A 3d model rear face of the stone can be viewed here: This cross probably dates from the 8th century AD. Scan by Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark, 13th October 2016.

Erosion is a tangible threat to achaeological sites

A spokesman for the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute said:

“Erosion by the stormy sea surrounding Orkney is a tangible threat to coastal archaeological sites.

“However, sometimes these same waves can reveal unique and important finds that have been lost to view for hundreds – if not thousands – of years.

“Following one of these storms, Dr Anderson-Whymark was examining an area of the east mainland coast that had been particularly hit during a south westerly gale and discovered something amazing – a stone that had been unearthed by the sea, projecting precariously out of the soft cliff face.

“This carved stone was clearly significant and needed to be quickly recovered before the next forecast storms that were due to hit the following weekend.”

The stone was retrieved with the help of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and could be put on display in future.

HES senior archaeology manager Dr Kirsty Owen said:

“The Orcadian coastline is an extremely dynamic environment and it was clear that we needed to act quickly.

“Because the stone has been properly excavated, we have a better chance of understanding how it relates to the development of the site.”


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