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Pictish symbol stone recovered from East Mainland

The front face of the Pictish Cross Slab. (Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark)
The front face of the Pictish Cross Slab. (Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark)

Archaeologists have recovered a rate Pictish symbol stone from an eroding area of coastline in the East Mainland.

Coastal erosion in Orkney, and its effect on archaeology, is well-known — especially during the winter months, when high tides and winds batter the shores.

Following one of these storms, Stromness-based archaeologist Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark was examining an area that had suffered during a south-westerly gale and found a stone projecting precariously out of an eroding bank.

This stone, on closer examination, had obviously been worked and designs were visible.

With financial support from Historic Environment Scotland, the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) launched an emergency excavation to recover the artefact before forecast bad weather.

After the stone was carefully lifted, the significance of the find was clear – it was a Pictish cross slab, probably dating from the 8th century AD, with a weathered, but intricately carved, cross, flanked by the a dragon/beast.

On the reverse side was another Pictish beast design, grasping what looked like the remains of a staff.

Due to the fragile archaeology at the find site, the location is not being made public and the stone is now scheduled for conservation and possible display.

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