Scotlands History

Pictish symbol stones

The Picts were master craftspeople. They created many intricately carved symbol stones. People at the time would have understood the symbols and figures carved on the stones. Their meanings have been lost over the centuries. Today there is much debate about the meaning of some Pictish symbols.

Early symbol stones were rough, undressed boulders; later stones were carefully shaped and dressed.

The earliest stones show incised animals and geometric shapes unique to Pictish culture like the crescent and v-rod, the double disc and the serpent and z-rod.

Later stones were sculpted in relief, allowing the elaborate designs to stand out from the background. Designs include incised Christian crosses and biblical scenes.

Some Pictish stones have written inscriptions. Pictish letters - called 'ogam' - had no curves, so were well suited for carving on stone. The language the Picts spoke has been lost.

More than 250 symbol stones have survived. They are monuments to the skills of Pictish artists and sculptors, but their meanings are still mysterious.

  • A photograph of a carved pictish stone

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Veni Redemptor, longer version - Pictish harp

Listen to Veni Redemptor, a 5th-century hymn by Ambrosius, Bishop of Milan, played on the Pictish harp.