Archaeology shock: Scottish researchers unearth ‘mind blowing’ Pictish hillfort

Archaeology shock: Scottish researchers unearth ‘mind blowing’ Pictish hillfort

The fort, overlooking the small village of Rhynie, is believed to be one of the largest ancient settlements ever discovered in Scotland. Researchers think that as many as 4,000 people may have lived in more than 800 huts on the Tap O’Noth in the fifth to sixth centuries. However, the settlement may date back as far as the third century, which would make it Pictish in origin.

Known as ‘Picti’ by the Romans, meaning ‘Painted Ones’ in Latin, the Picts were a collection of Celtic-speaking communities who lived in the east and north of Scotland during the Late British Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.

These northern tribes constituted the largest kingdom in Dark Age Scotland.

They repelled the conquests of both Romans and Angles, creating a true north-south divide on the British Isles.

The Picts would later merge with the Gaels, with whom they went on to create the Kingdom of Alba.


The size of the hillfort has stunned archaeologists, as conventional wisdom has it that settlements of that size did not appear until about the 12th century.

In its heyday, the settlement may have even been on a par with the largest known post-Roman settlements in Europe.

Professor Gordon Noble, who led the team of researchers from the University of Aberdeen, claimed the find “shakes the narrative of this whole time period”.

He told Sky News: “The size of the upper and lower forts together are around 16.75 hectares and one phase at least dates from the fifth to sixth centuries AD.

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They have conducted extensive fieldwork in the area since 2011, focusing on the lower valley long noted for its Pictish heritage.

Here at a settlement in the valley they discovered evidence for the drinking of Mediterranean wine, the use of glass vessels from western France and intensive metalwork production.

This all suggested it was a high-status site, possible even with royal connections.

However, the hillfort overlooking it at the top of Tap O’ Noth had generally been assumed to date from the Bronze or Iron Age.

Permission to excavate and film at Tap O’ Noth was granted by Historic Environment Scotland and supported by Aberdeenshire Council.

Bruce Mann, Archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council said: “To say these results are completely unexpected is an understatement.

“However, they could be key to understanding changing settlement patterns at the time.

“In the early centuries AD there were widespread small communities scattered across the landscape.

“These then largely disappear during the time of the Roman campaigns and we’ve struggled to understand what happened.

“Perhaps now we have evidence of people coming together in large concentrations at a handful of places, a reaction to the threat of external invasions.”

Published at Fri, 15 May 2020 03:17:00 +0000