Since 2011 the Northern Picts project at the University of Aberdeen (in collaboration with the University of Chester and University of Glasgow) has been uncovering an early royal centre of the Picts at Rhynie, Aberdeenshire. The placename Rhynie derives from early Celtic (Pictish) rig, ‘king’, and our work at the site suggests Rhynie was an important power centre of the Picts during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Excavations have uncovered a series of fortified enclosures where a number of decorated Pictish stones stood, including one, the Craw Stane, which still stands at the site today and two others including the iconic Rhynie Man discovered in the 1970s. The excavations have revealed a rich material assemblage including sherds of Late Roman wine amphorae imported from the eastern Mediterranean, sherds of glass drinking beakers from France and high-status metalwork. The metalworking evidence includes moulds and crucibles for production and an incredibly rare set of fine metalworking tongs.
The high-status metalwork also includes an axe-shaped pin with a serpent design that resembles the axe carried by the Rhynie Man (the network logo). We have also found traces of the contemporary cemetery that went alongside the fortified settlement and uncovered the remains of Pictish burial mounds including the partially preserved remains of an adult female buried within one of the barrows. Ongoing work at Rhynie aims to uncover more of the royal complex and understand a site that clearly encompassed elements of settlement, burial, cult and ceremony – key components of an early royal pagan centre of Pictland.
Excavations at Rhynie 2012 next to the Craw Stane Pictish symbol stone © University of Aberdeen