We are taught our heritage early in Scotland. In school
, we learn that the Picts
migrated from central Europe around the late iron age, and fought back the Roman invaders. We are taught that the Picts were a tribe of illiterate
savages, fond of cattle rustling and with a propensity towards violence. They were semi-clad, painted or tattooed warriors, usually described as
having a Mediterranean appearance of olive skin and dark hair.
This has always left me with questions. Why did the original Scots not stop these migratory Picts? We know that Scotland has been inhabited since 8500
BC; over 3000 artefacts were found at a site in Cramond. However, a flint arrowhead found at Islay, has been dated from 10,800 BC, suggestive of even
And where did the Picts go? We are told they vanished from history or were defeated by the Gaels, who incorporated them under their Gaelic rule, and
the nation of Alba was born.
More and more evidence is being unveiled to further unravel the secrets of these enigmatic people, not least by historian Stuart McHardy.
McHardy puts forward the proposal in ‘A New History of the Picts’ (2012) that these people were in actuality a network of clans, who had crossed
over the Doggerland
‘bridge’ prior to its immersion by the North
Sea around 6000 BC.
A common mistake, he argues, is the misunderstanding of the label ‘Scythians.’ The modern Scots are known to have descended from this area (Bede,
8AD), often thought to mean the area north of the Black Sea. In Bede’s time however, Scythia was known to mean Scandanavia and the area around
The Picts then were the indigenous people of Scotland, who lived in clans (from the gaelic clann-children) or family groups, and who probably united
in an effort – successfully – to keep the invading Romans out of Scotland. This argument is convincing – up until the mid-18th century, Scotland
maintained its clan system. This is a fairly complicated system of kinship bonds, mutual duties and rights rather than governance by an elite King.
While the clan chief would lead his people, he would also be of them. Hence there was no separate ‘Pict’ group – the name encompassed all who
lived above the Forth-Clyde divide.
Far from being violent savages, these were peoples capable of carving the most beautiful stones; artists and visionaries.
The Independant, 2008
‘A study of one the most important archaeological discoveries in Scotland for 30 years, a Pictish monastery at Portmahomack on the Tarbat peninsula
in Easter Ross, has found that they were capable of great art, learning and the use of complex architectural principles. And, in a discovery described
as "astonishing, mind-blowing" by architectural historians, it appears that the people who built the monastery did so using the proportions of "the
Golden Section", or "Divine Proportion" as it became known during the Renaissance hundreds of years later. This ratio of dimensions, 1.618 to one,
appears in nature, such as in the spiral of seashells, and the faces of people considered beautiful, such as Marilyn Monroe. It can be seen in Notre
Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Alhambra palace of Granada in Spain, the Acropolis in Athens and the Egyptian Pyramids, but was thought to have been too
advanced for the Picts.’
The Picts are perhaps best known for their beautifully carved stones.
No consensus has been reached as to the meanings of all the symbols, but consider
interpretation of the traditional V-Rods, found on many stones. He makes a convincing case for the possibility that it represents a
farmer’s almanac, a seasonal sundial.
McHardy also argues convincingly that the name Pict probably comes from a Roman misinterpretation of the word ‘pecht’ meaning ancestor. It has
long been taught that it is a translation of the Latin Picti-painted- but McHardy’s position is compelling and seems more likely, in my view.
Nor did these people die out; they walk among us.
The Scotsman, 2013
“Now new research from Scotlands DNA, an ancestry testing company, has found a marker strongly suggesting for the first time that a large number of
descendants of these northern tribes, known as “Picti” by the Romans meaning “Painted Ones”, are living in Scotland.
Dr Jim Wilson, chief scientist at the company, who found a Y chromosome marker arising amongst the direct ancestors of the Picts, said this was the
“first evidence that the heirs of the Picts are living among us”.
After testing this new fatherline marker labelled R1b-S530 in more than 3,000
British and Irish men, Dr Wilson discovered it is ten times more common in those with Scottish grandfathers than those with English grandfathers. A
total of 170 men living in Scotland have been found to carry this marker, although the number is likely to be far higher.
While ten per cent of more than 1,000 Scottish men tested carry R1b-S530, only 0.8 per cent of Englishmen have it.
Only a fool would argue that this is a case for ‘pure’ blood – one of the foulest myths in man’s history. Each baby born has the same right as
the next to live with the earth. We are now a nation of Picts, Britons, Vikings- and many, many more. The first written records of these people come
from Roman sources in the first century – our enemies – and so it should not then be surprising that viewing our past through foreign eyes will
lead to many misconceptions and slanders.
I would argue instead that it is time to allow for the possibility that our pecht – our family- were not illiterate savages. Warriors, yes, and by
no means perfect, but also artists, poets, craftsmen, mathematicians and astronomers.