Ancient Pictish fort found off the coast of Eastern Scotland


An essential aspect of older forts was their inaccessibility to enemies. The harder it was for foes to get at those inside, the easier it was for defenders to hold out.

It appears that this need was recognized quite early on. A recently discovered fort off the coast of Scotland sits atop a sea stack and can only be accessed using ropes at low tide, according to the BBC.

The Pictish fort was uncovered during an archaeological dig on the Aberdeenshire coast and is believed to be Scotland’s oldest, dating back to as early as the third century AD.

Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen needed help from experienced mountaineers to scale the rugged cliffs in order reach the site, which is perched precariously on the top of a sea stack called Dunnicaer, with sheer drops on all sides, according to the Edinburgh Evening News.

“The team found evidence of ramparts, floors and a hearth on the small outcrop,” the publication added. “It is believed the fort would have comprised a timber house or hall, surrounded by an outer defensive rampart built from stone.”

The fort was especially impressive given the materials used in its construction.

“The stone is not from the local area so it must have been quite a feat to get it, and the heavy oak timbers, up to such an inaccessible site,” said lead researcher Gordon Noble, a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.

Results of carbon dating suggest that use of the fort was relatively short-lived, and it is assumed the Pictish communities who inhabited it moved on to the larger site of Dunnottar Castle to the south.

The Picts were descendants of indigenous Iron Age people of northern Scotland.

“Pict” was a blanket term applied to an agglomeration of different people in the northern Scotland, probably with different cultures and languages, according to the website Orkneyjar, which details the heritage of the Orkney Islands.

The word “Pict” means “painted people,” likely referring to the Pictish custom of either tattooing their bodies or embellishing themselves with war paint.

Prior the arrival of the Romans in Britain the Picts were probably fragmented tribes who spent much of their time fighting among themselves.

The Roman threat appears to have forced them together. This allowed the tribes to resist the continental invaders, forcing cooperation in the face of invaders. By the time the Romans departed from Britain in the fifth century AD, the northern tribes had begun to form into what would later become the Pictish Kingdom.

By the 11th century the Pictish identity had been incorporated into the amalgamation of peoples known as “Scots.”

(Top: Researchers seen working atop Dunnicaer sea stacks off coast of Scotland, where an ancient Pictish fort was recently discovered.)


6 thoughts on “Ancient Pictish fort found off the coast of Eastern Scotland

  1. Fascinating that these monuments are still being discovered in otherwise well known and explored regions. I would add that the “Pictish” language (using Pictish in its loosest sense) was almost certainly a late P-Celtic or Brythonic one (and so related to the regional varieties of British and Continental Celtic dialects). One popular theory suggest an earlier Q-Celtic substratum (a category which includes the linguistic ancestors of modern Irish, Scottish and Manx). In other words peoples speaking a variety of Q-Celtic in the northern half of the island of Britain made a switch to a P-Celtic dialect later than rest of Britain, and mainland Europe. This, and proximity to Q-Celtic speakers in north-eastern Britain and Ireland, could possibly account for the peculiarities of the “Pictish” speech.

    • I read a story where this fort was first “discovered” in the 19th century, when a farmer dreamed there was gold atop the sea stack. Some youths climbed atop and found the remains of the fort and found no gold, but plenty of Pictish stones, many with carvings. They, being youths, proceeded to toss the stones in to the sea. Many were later recovered.

      I would love to see a “language tree” of the different tongues that exist on Britain. It would make for a fascinating study. It would take a whole lot of untangling to get back to the basics of what of what is spoken today.

  2. It just made me wonder how people provided food for themselves given the access….and how awful their enemies must have been to drive them to making a refuge such as this…

    • Good questions. The fact is, life was far, far more difficult in the past than we can even imagine today. Can you imagine being stuck atop that sea stack, in all kinds of weather, and the access to the mainland both difficult and dangerous? It would get to seem more like a prison than a fort.

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