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Archaeological dig will add to knowledge of Picts


By Gordon Calder

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The Wag of Forse site near Latheron. Picture: University of Aberdeen
The Wag of Forse site near Latheron. Picture: University of Aberdeen

AN archaeological site in Caithness, thought to have been occupied by the Picts 1400 years ago, could "greatly add to the knowledge of the period".

That is the view of Professor Gordon Noble, who is leading a team from the University of Aberdeen which is undertaking an investigation of the Wag of Forse site near Latheron. Preliminary work has been carried out and is expected to resume early next year.

Also involved in the initiative is Caithness Archaeological Trust.

Prof Noble is undertaking the investigations as part of his Northern Picts project, which aims to uncover the archaeological traces of Pictish society from Aberdeen to the north of Scotland.

It is thought the Caithness dwellings, called wags – a type of longhouse – may have been occupied by the Picts from around 1400 years ago.

"We think they are Pictish but are trying to find out if that is the case," Prof Noble said. "Digs were carried out at the site in the 1930s and ’40s before radiocarbon dating technology was used. We hope to reopen the trenches and date the charcoal from the hearths to find out when they were occupied."

The team will have to gain consent from Historic Environment Scotland before they can continue. If they get the go-ahead the work could resume early next year, Prof Noble added.

We hope to reopen the trenches and date the charcoal from the hearths to find out when they were occupied.

Meg Sinclair, who chairs Caithness Archaeological Trust, said: "The Wag of Forse is a very significant landscape in south-east Caithness and I am looking forward to future activities at the site."

Alison Smith, a volunteer on the project, described what is happening at the site as "very interesting". She said it is "a work in progress" which is likely to continue next year.

"I am very optimistic that it will resume around springtime," she said.

The Picts lived in northern and eastern Scotland in the late Iron Age and in early medieval times. The Caithness site also contains Iron Age brochs, although it appears the Pictish houses date from after that period. Wag is the local name for these dwellings and may derive from a Gaelic word meaning "little cave".

In the fields round the site a number of other structures can be found, including hut circles to the west.

The Picts have been described as a "lost people of Europe". They were first mentioned in late Roman writings and went on to dominate northern and eastern Scotland until the late first millennium AD.

The Picts' legacy includes impressive archaeological sites and artistic achievements but all trace of them disappeared from the written records in the ninth century.


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