Pictish, Celtic and Norse Influenced prehistoric artefacts from the Scottish Isles, The National Museum of Scotland, 24.2.17.

Facial reconstruction made of 'brutally-killed' Pictish man

The face of a Pictish man who was “brutally killed” 1,400 years ago has been reconstructed by Dundee University researchers.

Archaeologists found the man’s skeleton buried in a recess of a cave in the Black Isle, Ross-shire.

Forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black and her team at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) have now detailed the man’s injuries.

He was found in a cross-legged position with stones holding down his limbs.

Prof Black said the “fascinating” skeleton was in a remarkable state of preservation.

She said: “From studying his remains, we learned a little about his short life but much more about his violent death.

"As you can see from the facial reconstruction, he was a striking young man, but he met a very brutal end, suffering a minimum of five severe injuries to his head.” Read more.

Facial reconstruction made of 'brutally-killed' Pictish man - BBC News
The face of a Pictish man who was "brutally killed" 1,400 years ago is reconstructed by Dundee University researchers.

Here it is! The big archaeology secret I’ve been not allowed to talk about for nearly 6 months…

I’m part of a voluntary organisation called the Rosemarkie Caves Project, and we’ve been doing small excavations on some of the caves that line the south coast of the Black Isle to investigate their potential for archaeology. Last September, on our last day of digging (typical!) we uncovered something truly incredible… The excellently preserved remains of a pretty violently killed Pictish man, tucked into a small nook of the cave. He was on his back with his ankles crossed and arms down by his sides, boulders on his hands and between his legs - a very odd position that screams “ritual”.

Prof Sue Black and her team - forensic anthropologists who usually don’t deal with archaeological remains but those of the more recent past such as identifying victims of war crimes - took on the task of examining the skeleton and detailing his violent demise (the article has the full account). They also created an incredible facial reconstruction of the man - handsome guy.

Archaeologically speaking, human remains in Scotland are generally poorly preserved due to the soil’s acidity. These remains were from a sandy context, protected from the elements by the cave itself, and are perhaps unique in their excellent preservation for their Pictish date.

There’s still a lot more work to be done - we’re waiting for isotope analysis to be carried out to determine a little more about the individual’s origins, and eventually he’ll be written into the broader context of Pictish archaeology, a section of history we still don’t know very much about. What he was doing there and why he was killed we may never know (Sacrifice? Murder? Did the people carrying out the metal working nearby know about the remains, were they the ones who killed him? So many questions!) - but we do know there are plenty more caves to be investigated… Who knows what else we’ll find in them!

If anyone has an questions, give me a shout. 


Pictish Personal Artefacts, The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, 11.11.17.

We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.
—  the wife of Caledonian chief Argentocoxos, responding to Severus’ wife, Julia Domna criticism of the sexual morals of the Caledonian women. Circa 208 CE (via)

Carved face in the rock in the Den behind Dunino Church by Merlin Photography, Scotland
Via Flickr:
Carved face in the rock in the Den behind Dunino Church (pictish?)


Pictish plaques, chains, pin brooches and a stone stud, made between 500 and 700 CE, The National Museum of Scotland, 24.2.17.


Antonine Wall, Watling Lodge Section, Falkirk, Scotland, 10.2.18.

I’m drawn to the site of the Antonine Wall mainly because its history is often overshadowed by the more famous Hadrian’s Wall. This stretch I visited on Saturday. The site marks where a mile castle would have been situated. The stretch is intersected by modern buildings and the clear ditch and trench diminish on the other side (last image).