Described by one reviewer as “a major landmark in Pictish studies” and by another as “a stunning achievement”, this detailed report on the archaeological excavations at Portmahomack is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the Picts. It is particularly useful for what it reveals of Pictish Christianity, giving insights into the daily lives of monks who inhabited this site in Easter Ross more than a thousand years ago. Published in 2016 by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the report has been made available as a free full-text download. It is one of two scholarly monographs on the Society’s Open Access Digital Books platform, the other being The Scottish Antiquarian Tradition , a collection of essays edited by A.S. Bell.
Portmahomack, situated on the Tarbat Peninsula overlooking the Dornoch Firth, was the location of a major Pictish monastery that reached its high point during the eighth century AD. The monastery was burned in the ninth century, possibly by Viking raiders, and ceased to function around the same time, although the site was re-developed as a trading settlement. This, too, eventually fell out of use. In the early 1100s, long after the end of the Pictish period, the site’s former religious character was revived with the founding of St Colman’s parish church.
A programme of archaeological excavation began in the mid-1990s and continued for more than ten years, unearthing clear evidence of the monastery’s importance as a centre of writing, stone-carving and metalworking. Some of the finds, including fragments of Pictish sculpture, are now displayed at the Tarbat Discovery Centre housed in St Colman’s Church. The Centre is well worth visiting and can also be followed on social media (see links below).
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Martin Carver, Justin Garner-Lahire & Cecily Spall (2016) Portmahomack on Tarbat Ness: changing ideologies in North-East Scotland, sixth to sixteenth century AD (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) [e-book free download]
Joining the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is an excellent way to keep up-to-date with all the exciting news from Scottish archaeology. Members of the Society are known as Fellows and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters FSA Scot. Fellowship is open to anyone who has a keen interest in Scotland’s past. More information on how to apply can be found at the Society’s website.
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