Who were the Picts?

Pictish lands




   A map showing territorial boundaries around AD 800.  Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database rights 2009.  All rights reserved.  Ordnance Survey Licence number 100017509.        A map showing the distribution of Pictish symbol-incised stones.  Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2009.  All rights reserved.  Ordnance Survey Licence number 100017509.
Territorial boundaries around AD 800. Distribution of Pictish carved stones.

Clusters of finds

Evidence of Pictish settlement and culture is to be found throughout much of Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde. However, there are areas of the country with a concentration of evidence suggesting particular centres of Pictish activity and power. Fife, Angus and Perthshire, framing the Firth of Tay, are rich with Pictish footprints. St Vigeans Museum, Meigle Museum, St Andrews Cathedral Museum and the stones at Aberlemno are three good starting points in this area of southern Pictland.

Similarly, the area around the Dornoch, Cromarty and Moray Firths has so many Pictish remains that this area must have been at the heart of northern Pictish society. The large coastal promontory fort at Burghead was certainly an important stronghold; and recent excavations at Portmahomack have revealed a major ecclesiastical centre to rival Iona.


Excavations at Portmahomack.
FAS Heritage Ltd © Martin Carver and University of York.

   Excavations at Portmahomack. FAS Heritage Ltd © Martin Carver and University of York.

Place names

Road sign to Perth

    In addition to the clues in the landscape – symbol stones, fort sites, archaeological finds – it is possible to identify areas of Pictish occupation from echoes of its language. Certain elements of place names may be survivals of Pictish words, used by the Picts or coined later by others.
Road sign to Perth