Dig diary Wednesday 25th July: a Pictish Painted Pebble to complement the smith's handprints

Pleased to announce that we have our very own Pictish painted pebble from Swandro, found by the eagle-eyed Ruth, and adding to the 55 or so know from Scotland, most of which come from Shetland:


Pictish painted pebbles are a bit of a mystery- they're quartz pebbles painted with patterns, often circles, dots and lines for no obvious reason.


ARO12: Painting the stones black: solving the mystery of painted quartz pebbles is the most recent work on these enigmatic little artefacts, and this research showed that the most likely substance used to decorate the pebbles was distilled peat tar. This is basically the gunge that oozes out around chimney breasts if you have a peat fire in a stone hearth, and the authors of the paper worked this out by observing the bituminous staining around chimneys & then doing a bit of experimental archaeology with their own quartz pebbles.


It's great that we now have our own Pictish painted pebble from Swandro, as only a handful have been found in Orkney and few of these are from secure archaeological contexts i.e. we've got the pebbles but don't know exactly where they came from. We seem to be collecting the set of cool Pictish finds from the dig, what with our coppersmith's workshop, handprints on the smith's anvil, and a painted pebble - what next? I'm hoping for a massive silver Pictish chain!



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Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust 

Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation No: SC047002 

Patron: His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay

Registered office: Bayview Birsay Orkney KW17 2LR   email: info@swandro.co.uk