Dandaleith Pictish Stone

Dandaleith Pictish Stone
This fabulous monument is a fairly recent addition to Scotland’s corpus of Dark Age sculpture, having been discovered only three years ago. It was unearthed in a field at Dandaleith Farm near Craigellachie in Moray and, after conservation work, is now on display in Elgin Museum.

It stands 1.7 metres tall and is a typical example of a “Class I” stone, being adorned with Pictish symbols but lacking any overtly Christian motifs. The date of carving is probably within the range 550 to 650 AD. Unusually, it has symbols on adjacent faces (or sides) instead of on one face only.

The symbols comprise two pairs: a notched rectangle & Z-rod below a mirror (or mirror-case); and a crescent & V-rod below an eagle. All four symbols are known from other stones elsewhere across the former territory of the Picts. The meaning of Pictish symbols remains a mystery and continues to spark lively debate in various quarters (including several threads at this blog). I’m inclined to interpret these enigmatic designs as names, seeing those in pairs as patronyms or matronyms, i.e. “X, the son (or daughter) of Y”. If this is the correct interpretation, the pairings could represent a Pictish equivalent of the Christian memorial inscriptions (written in Latin) on contemporary stones outside the Pictish lands, examples of which are found in southern Scotland, Wales and England.

I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about the Dandaleith Stone in the near future. Its discovery raises many interesting questions that archaeologists will want to answer. For whom was it carved and what purpose did it serve? Was it a memorial to the dead or did it mark a boundary? Was there a Pictish settlement nearby or did the stone stand alone in its immediate landscape?

We shall have to wait and see. In the meantime, here are some links to further information:

Elgin Museum archaeological collections [look out for the Dandaleith Stone in one of the photographs]
Aberdeenshire Council: Sites & Monuments Record
National treasure: Museum to unveil rare Pictish Dandaleith Stone
Archaeologist try to unlock secrets of Pictish find

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A note on the illustration

Having not yet visited the Dandaleith Stone I don’t have any photographs to put at the top of this blogpost. I merely offer a very rough sketch, using a simple outline technique (I cannot claim any artistic talent whatsoever). My points of reference were photographs and drawings found online, none of which are in the public domain so I couldn’t reproduce them here. I should add that my intention was to evoke the style of John Romilly Allen (1847-1907) who produced so many fine illustrations of Pictish stones for his and Joseph Anderson’s magisterial ECMS (The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, published in 1903). The result of my efforts is little more than a homage to Allen’s brilliantly effective artwork. On a personal level it helps me to imagine how the Dandaleith Stone might have appeared in ECMS if it had been discovered in 1813 rather than 200 years later.

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21 comments on “Dandaleith Pictish Stone

  1. pictishy says:

    Hi Tim, its very frustrating not being able to reproduce a photo of something that is the heritage of all of us. But you’ve done a good job with the sketch, just one thing, the lefthand end of the crescent/V rod is more like a flower, its the most common version of it, here’s an example http://www.mathstat.strath.ac.uk/outreach/pictish/database.php?image=50

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for posting the link. On my sketch I simply “drew” the terminal of the V-rod as it appears on the Dandaleith stone without reference to other examples.

      • pictishy says:

        I think you drew it as someone else had drawn it? I noticed the same thing on one of the links, so I think you might have accidentally had your brain setup. But the actual stone really does have the normal ‘flower’ end.

        • Tim says:

          In my (virtual) sketch I attempted to trace the outline with a Photoshop “pencil” but a certain amount of guesswork was involved and I did indeed refer to the drawing you mention (produced by Aberdeen University, I think). No doubt at some point we’ll see a fully detailed representation by an archaeological illustrator, with all the intricacies of the carvings picked out.

          • Tim says:

            P.S. – Helen McKay has very kindly sent me a close-up photo of the V-rod which shows the flower shape quite clearly, but I probably won’t bother altering my sketch as I’m sure a definitive drawing will appear in due course.

  2. ritaroberts says:

    Hi Tim,just looked at the photo where pictishy has left a link .So your artwork isn’t too bad is it. Thanks for the info.

  3. pictishy says:

    There are five other stones with 4 symbols on them, two with the disc-over-notched-rectangle, and three with disc-over-unnoticed-rectangle. The unnotched form appears to sit on fords, and the ones with 4 symbols are where roads cross. Mostly when we get 4 symbols they are usually to be read in two pairs, 1st and 4th, and 2nd and 3rd – which is the case here. I can tell this as the rods of the notched-rectangle are the type that go with an animal symbol, in this case the eagle. But the most obvious thing about this stone is that it holds symbols that feature frequently in the Spey/Moray region. But no, the idea of names is so easily disproved, but no one wants to be the bearer of bad news.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t think the names idea can be disproved so easily. If that was the case, it wouldn’t still be regarded as a serious possibility by archaeologists.

      • pictishy says:

        Hi Tim, I don’t think its really considered a serious possibility, its just that no one has any alternative to hold on to, and no one is game enough to try to seriously look at the idea since Cummins bravely tried it and got slammed for his efforts – for other reasons. So this idea of names is now turning into what Alex W. calls a ‘factoid’ – a cute off-the-cuff idea without any basis in fact or research.

        • Tim says:

          My understanding of the term “factoid” is an uproven theory which gets repeated so often that it takes on the appearance of a fact, i.e. it becomes a fact-shaped object which a majority of people then assume to be The Great Truth. I don’t think the symbols=names theory has reached that stage yet, nor do I expect this or any of the other theories to reach it. None of them are persuasive enough to withstand too much scrutiny, mainly because of the absence of a Pictish equivalent of the Rosetta Stone. It’s hard to build a consensus around a particular theory when not even one of the Pictish symbols can be “translated” with any real measure of confidence.

          On a related note, I’ve been on an anti-factoid crusade for some years now, my favourite bugbears being the presumed certainty around the location of a kingdom (Rheged) and of a battle (Catraeth). I’ve challenged both of these factoids here at Senchus on a number of occasions.

    • cairnton says:

      I like this interpretation as it sits with my view. I’m wondering if the triple disc represents a well.

  4. dearieme says:

    I met an old friend this weekend who talked about the Pictish stones at Gatehouse-of-Fleet. Have you written about those before, Tim?

  5. Gizlivadi says:

    Could it be possible the “Custantin filius Fircus” inscription in the Dupplin Cross is evidence of the 9th century transition between Pictish language (symbol or otherwise) to the more “administrative” lingua franca of Gaelic/Latin? It is worth noting that the Cross itself has no symbols (maybe there wasn’t one for “Constantine”)

    • Gizlivadi says:

      Forgot to mention (can’t edit these comments!) that I am, of course, assuming the “Custantin filius Fircus” formula to be the same of the “X, son of Y” in the paired symbol stones.

      • Tim says:

        Yes, I think it’s very likely that the Dupplin Cross represents a late stage in the long period of transition which led to the end of “Pictishness” and the Gaelicisation of the Picts. It implies that by c.830 the Pictish elite had already adopted Gaelic as their preferred language in high-level discourse (e.g. in monumental inscriptions proclaiming their power).

        • pictishy says:

          Yes, elite language gone, cross shape gone, symbols gone, Pictish art style gone, Pictish content gone, even Pictish clothing gone. Which isn’t really surprising as the CII symbol stones sit with Celtic Christianity, the one that didnt consider the Picts damned for all eternity to hell for their worship of ‘idols’, and that church, along with its artisans, got kicked out of eastern Pictland about a hundred years before the Constantine cross.

  6. dearieme says:

    According to the great Oliver Packham “a factoid looks like a fact, is respected as a fact, and has all the properties of a fact except that it is not true”.

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