Stunning 3D reconstruction shows what a ‘pictish fort’ looked like


A stunning 3D reconstruction of a Pictish fort has been revealed which brings an ancient Scottish settlement back to life. 

The remote fort dates back approximately 1,700 years and sits atop a 20-foot-high sea stack and was first excavated in 2015.

Analysis of the outcrop found it was likely cut off at high tide and researchers at the University of Aberdeen visualised what it would look like if still attached to the mainland. 

It was found on top of the Dunnicaer sea stack close to Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, and appears to have been built with stone imported from elsewhere in the country. 

The site is near the ruins of Dunnotar Castle which is an important Pictish settlement in Scotland’s history in its own right.

The video illustrates what it would look like if the settlement had never become separated from the mainland. 

The archaeologists recruited a team of experienced mountaineers to scale Dunnicaer’s sheer drops. 

Partial remains of houses were found on the cliff edge, which shows that much of the settlement had fallen into the sea.

Remnants of turf and timber structures with preserved floor layers and hearths were also discovered. 

It also suggests space was at a premium as some hearths were built on top of one another. 

Evidence of Roman pottery and glass was also found, indicating the inhabitants had strong connections to the empire.   

It appears the site was eventually abandoned in the late fourth or early fifth century and the population migrated to nearby Dunnotar.

Dunnotar swelled in numbers and became regarded as the elite centre of Pictish society by the seventh century. 

It was lost for centuries as the vertical drops and jagged cliffs made it unassailable. 

A group of youths from Stonehaven conquered the stack in 1832 and found a host of decorated and carved Pictish symbol stones.

The rebellious teens threw some of them into the sea and the priceless artefacts had to be recovered at a later date.   

Pictish symbol stones are a unique tradition of carving that may have denoted high status names. 

The radiocarbon dates for the settlement suggest that these stones may be amongst the earliest in the carving tradition.

Professor Gordon Noble from the University oif Aberdeen, said in 2015: ‘Being youths, they did what youths do and threw them down into the sea.

‘One of them returned later to collect one of the stones and since then a few others have been found. They had rough designs carved into them.’

When Dr Noble and his team from the Northern Picts project conducted a five day excavation on the top of the site, they uncovered the remains of what appears to be a rampart wall.

They also found post holes and the remains of a hearth that appears to have been within a house built inside the fort. They even found charcoal still in the stone fire place.

Mr Noble said there may have been a settlement built on the land behind the fort, although as the Picts largely built their homes from wood, it would be hard to find many remains.

Professor Gordon Noble said more recently: ‘We always knew that Dunnicaer was a site of major significance but carrying out an archaeological survey was hampered by the inaccessibility of the site. 

‘Thanks to the help of mountaineering experts, we were able to carry out some extreme archaeology!’

In order to reach the site, the team had to employ the services of professional rock climber Duncan Patterson, who climbed up the sea stack and put ropes in place. 

‘It is plausible that, although already in an eroded state, the outcrop would have been significantly bigger in the time of the Picts, making it a suitable site for a settlement,’ he added.

‘This video helps to fully visualise how the fort may have looked in the fourth century which we think helps to further bring to life the lives of the Picts, who are so poorly understood because of the lack of historical records.

‘We’re so glad we have been able to do the dig on Dunnicaer at this time. Coastal erosion is a huge threat to archaeological sites of this kind and the remaining stack will continue to erode.’ 

The Picts were a group of tribes that lived in eastern and northern Scotland.

Although best known for the carved stones and jewellery they left behind, it is thought that they were farmers but also engaged in sea raids.

The archaeologists discovered the fort on Dunnicaer after following up reports that Pictish stones had been found there when some local youths climbed up the sea stack.


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