A “treasure trove” of ancient artifacts unearthed off the Moray Coast in northeastern Scotland is shedding light on how a lost society lived – and perhaps died – a millennium ago.
Meaning the “Painted Ones” in Latin, the Pict people made up the largest kingdom in northern Scotland during the Dark Ages. Because they left no written records, archeologists have nicknamed them the “lost ones”. The only clue to their lives, influence, and culture is told through archaeology.
The excavation site took place in a feature known as a “midden" – basically a fancy word for the town dumpster – which archaeologists believe was destroyed by a fire that broke out during a Viking invasion in the 10th century.
"What's exciting is the level of preservation here. We've found animal bone which rarely survives in mainland Scotland because of the acidic soil,” said archaeologist Dr Gordon Noble in a statement. The team also found a complex layer of oak planks used to fortify a wall of an ancient citadel, jewelry, and intricate hair and dress pins.
As it turns out, the fire might very well have helped to protect the site and its “treasure trove” of artifacts from natural decomposition processes that would have otherwise taken place.
"We have discovered that the complex layer of oak planks set in the wall was burned in situ and that the resulting charring has actually preserved it in amazing detail when ordinarily it would have rotten away to nothing by now,” he said. The wood is so well preserved that archaeologists have been able to take samples for carbon dating in the hopes they provide further insight into how the fort was built and ultimately destroyed.
Noble heads up the Northern Picts Project at Aberdeen University and, with his team, has worked at the Burghead site since 2015, during which time they found a Pictish longhouse and Anglo Saxon coins dating to the 9th century. In April, researchers returned to elaborate on the archaeology work that had previously been carried out.
“We are starting to build a picture of Pictish resources being out into this site on a scale we have never found evidence for before,” said Gordon.
The team hopes to continue their excavations but say they’re now racing against time.
“Coastal erosion is getting to be a real issue at the site and over the last century meters of coastline have disappeared,” said Noble. "The timber wall we found is only one to one-and-a-half meters away from the erosion face.
"We hope to return next year to rescue as much as we can before it falls into the sea."