Set in Stone: the Birth of Alba

Invermay Pictish Cross

Fragment of the Invermay Cross (illustration from The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, 1903)

Few places are more closely connected with the Picts than the village of Forteviot in Perthshire. Nestling in the fertile valley of Strathearn, it was formerly a royal palace of Pictish kings, the most famous of whom was Cináed mac Ailpín (“Kenneth MacAlpine”) who is said to have died there in AD 858.

The lands around the village have yielded some of the finest examples of Pictish sculpture, most notably the Forteviot Arch and fragments of several crosses. One very large cross formerly stood south of the village near Invermay House until it was broken up in the 1700s. Its surviving pieces are, however, providing inspiration for a new monument. This will celebrate ancient Alba, the Gaelic-speaking kingdom ruled by Cináed and his successors, in which Picts and Scots were united as one people. The project will be managed by the Tay Landscape Partnership who have commissioned stonecarver David McGovern of Monikie Rock Art in Angus.

Modern representations of large Pictish monuments are often breathtaking (the replica of the Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab being a prime example) so I’m looking forward to seeing the new Forteviot stone. It will eventually reside in the village as an enduring symbol of the rich archaeological heritage of Strathearn.

More on this story can be found at the website of The Courier newspaper: Perthshire village’s role in the birth of Scotland carved in stone

Other links:
Monikie Rock Art
Tay Landscape Partnership – Forteviot: the Birth of Alba
Canmore database record for the Invermay Cross

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9 comments on “Set in Stone: the Birth of Alba

  1. Robert McGreoor says:

    I don’t believe that Cinead MacAlpine was Pictishl. The Clan MacGregor DNA Project has for the modal of the first 13 STR’s: 13 24 10 10 14 12 12 13 13 13 30. The same Modal for those members of MacGregor distant is: 13 24 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 29. The MacGregors claim descendancy from MacAlpin and the First set of 13 is commonly called the Modal of the DalRiada Scots.Similarly the second modal is the modal for the Pictish folks.

    The Dalriada Scots were from Ireland and then back to Belgic tribes.c. 0AD. The Pictish tribes came from the Loire valley, where they were known as Pictones.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for this, Robert. Genetic data tends to go over my head but I know quite a few readers of this blog use it in their own research. As far as Cináed’s origins are concerned, I lean towards the view that he identified as a Pict but had some kind of strong connection with Dál Riata and may have been born there. Also, I believe that an individual’s cultural identity or “ethnicity” in this period of Scottish history was most likely a fluid concept with much blurring at the edges. So even if Cináed adopted a Pictish identity in certain contexts (e.g. when seeking support from elites in Perthshire) he may have worn it more lightly at other times.

      I don’t see either the Scots or the Picts as anything other than indigenous peoples of Britain. I believe that their supposed migrations from Ireland, Gaul, Scythia and other places arose in legend rather than in history.

      • dearieme says:

        How might one test the proposition that the Scots were indigenous Brits? Or, indeed, that they came from Norn Iron in the 5th century?

        • A correction for my first email: My last name is McGregor. Next, the first modal is for the clan Gregor,. the ,modal for the Dalriada Scots differs by at least one mutation, having an 11 at 385a, which is the fourth site out of the 13. I would also expect maybe 1-2 mutations different (over 110 STR values) for the the chief of the Dalriada Cineal when it migrated for Ireland to Scotland. Additionally, 11, 11 (391, 385a) is also known as the WAMH (Western Atlantic Modal Haplotype.)

          The approach used to estimate modals back in time is to take a new set of data (e.g. for the scots) is to converge clan modals who are historically, believed to be. derived from a common ancestor. In this case we take the modal of the MacDonalds (R1b), the MacMillans, Buchanans with The Clan Gregor modal. We find that they all converge to a common modal who lived c. 800 AD. The next would include trying to see if the modals for the different Cinels (sp.) which comprised the Dalriada scots. One example is the Clan Campbell who are derived from a different Cinel than the clans cited above.

          At this point in time we would then use Caesars’ Conquest of Gaul to aid in making estimates of further convergences.

          I realize this is a fairly dense/brief description of the process to estimate convergence, but this is only way that I have found to be of utility for this type of problem.

  2. dearieme says:

    On further thought: what do you mean by ‘indigenous’ in these circumstances? For example, do you mean that Gaelic-speakers already lived in the West Highlands before, say, the Romans invaded the island? Or that the people in the west who came to speak Gaelic were descendants of people who had lived there since the distant past, so that the change to speaking Gaelic was only a cultural change, rather than a mass immigration? Or do you think that only a conquering aristocracy that spoke, and spread, Gaelic, and that the bulk of the population was unchanged since (let us say) the early Iron Age?

    • Tim says:

      In this context I’m using the term ‘indigenous’ to mean ‘native inhabitants’ rather than immigrants. So the second of your three scenarios is the one I subscribe to (‘the people in the west who came to speak Gaelic were descendants of people who had lived there since the distant past’). I imagine the bulk of the population of Argyll c.500 AD to be descended from people who still spoke a Brittonic language in the early Roman period before adopting Gaelic through close interaction with maritime communities in northern Ireland. However, I also envisage a constant migration of individuals and families across the narrow seaways, in both directions, involving all classes of society. At the elite level this could explain the landholdings of early Scottish kings in what historians sometimes call ‘Irish Dal Riata’. What I don’t buy at all is the traditional view of a mass migration of Gaelic-speakers from Ireland to Britain, or the idea of an elite takeover of Argyll by an Irish royal dynasty.

      Referring to your previous comment, neither the mass-migration model nor its alternatives are easy to test. Even the archeological evidence can be interpreted in different ways. As with so much of Dark Age history, a preferred scenario becomes a matter of faith.

  3. The fragment is fascinating. All these ancient designs are beautiful and hold so much mystery as well as history.
    Also found the comments on this post inriguing. If I’m rememebering correctly, My grandmother, a university research librarian, traced out family back to the Macgregor clan. I may have to look up that DNA project. Never considered the sequences were so identified ( Duh for dense me)
    Always enjoy your posts

    • Tim says:

      Thanks. It’s probably worth following up the DNA data mentioned by Robert. Finding a genetic link back to your Macgregor ancestors would be a fascinating result.

      • robert h. mcgregor says:

        I have not followed up my previous msgs since I felt is was a little out of scope? There are a limited number of questions , based on our current understanding of the properties of STR’s and SNP’s, that can be intelligently posed. In my personal case I have found out that I really am only a partaker McGregor, my genetic heritage is probably more correlated with the indigeneous natives of Scotland/Ireland. I am not a descendant of the McGregor (MacGregor) clan who all go back to a certain person born c. 1300 – 1400.

        Most of my work has dealt with people whose ancestor, at most, lived about 0 AD. To go back further, the math gets trickier and the uncertainty (Standard Deviation) gets very large.

        My earliest own ancestor that I have traced back to is Patrick Gregor MacGregorie(McGregory) arrived in the New York colony c. 1684. He was the Captain of two ships who left Scotand to start over in the Colonies. His father was probably one of the McGregors who were hung at the orders of James I. He was a “soldier of fortune”, having served in France in the eternal wars that were going on between Great Britain and other European countries at that time The problem with my DNA is that it is quite rare (Different) than a typical MacGregor and I can find very few persons (who have been currently) that I can compare it to?

        Finally, the use of the middle name of Gregor, may imply that I descend from a Girig, third king of Scotland, who was part Pict as I understand the chronology of the Picts and Scottis in the 900 -1000 time period, As I understand it Girig is Gregor in Gaellic? I understand that this is a contentious claim, since Girig has been written out of the early history by subsequent Scottish historians.

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