Archive for June 6th, 2008

Gravediggers: Is there anything they can’t do?

Friday, June 6th, 2008

A gravedigger in the Shetland town of Cunningsburgh during the course of his duties discovered a Pictish stone engraved with symbols and dating back to 700 A.D.

Not only is it extremely cool-looking, but it turns out to be a witness to a crucial period in Shetland history.

The 18×11 inch sandstone slab, which is broken from a bigger stone, is inscribed with symbols on one side.

Most striking are two discs with crosses, which are connected together with a band and crossed over by a Z-shaped figure with ornate terminals.

The motifs on the latest stone are known by archaeologists as “double-disc and Z-rod”, one of the commonest motifs.

Double-discs often have circles within them, and sometimes spirals, but this is the only one with crosses.

If this is a Christian cross it indicates a mixed belief between the Picts’ indigenous religion, and their new Christian faith.

The Vikings invaded Shetland starting in the late 8th century, so this stone was carved less than a hundred years before Norse culture began to dominate, which it would do quite thoroughly until the Scots, using a clever pawnshop maneuver rather than a boring old war, snagged Shetland back from the Danes in 1469.

The Pictish symbols carved on the stone would have been illegible within a couple of hundred years, and so they remain.

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