3d images

New 3D images offer insight into Scotland’s Pictish past

THREE-DIMENSIONAL images of Scotland’s largest known Pictish fort have revealed what it might have looked like over 1,000 years ago.

The new footage from Burghead in Moray was based on archaeological excavations at the site by the University of Aberdeen, as part of a wider video project to let people learn more about our Pictish past.

They show the huge defensive ramparts, which were once thought to be 8 meters thick and 6 meters high, as well as dwellings inside the fort.

It has long been known that Burghead was a Pictish settlement, but the development of the modern town in the 19th century was thought to have eroded most traces of this period in its history.

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The ramparts on the land side of the fort were leveled and part of the defenses on the sea side were destroyed in order to build the modern port.

Dozens of Pictish carved stones were discovered during this destruction, but only six carved bulls survived along with a number of fragments of early Christian carvings.

When archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen began excavations in 2015, they expected little to have survived such extensive building work nearby.

However, since then a very different picture has emerged and the excavations, led by Professor Gordon Noble and funded by Historic Environment Scotland and the Leverhulme Trust, have revealed some of the most significant Pictish objects and remains ever discovered.

“The scale of the houses and buildings for which we uncovered evidence show that this was a densely populated and significant Pictish site,” Noble said.

“We have found many objects that have allowed us to learn more about the daily life of the inhabitants of Burghead between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. From metallurgy to weaponry and even hairpins and clothespins, with each new dig we discover more about our ancestors who lived here.

“The foundations of the huge ramparts have survived much better than anyone expected, despite their willful destruction over the centuries, and the layers of the heap, which is effectively where the Picts dumped their rubbish, provided archaeologists a surprising insight into the life of the Picts.

“It’s wonderful to see the work of our excavations spanning over five years brought together in these stunning reconstructions which offer incredible insight into what Burghead looked like.”

Dr Alice Watterson of the University of Dundee coordinated the reconstructions, with additional filming and editing by Kieran Duncan and aerial drone filming by Dr Kieran Baxter, members of Dundee’s 3DVisLab research group.

They include a spectacular well wrapped in the ramparts, elements of which can still be seen today. Archaeologists have pieced together how this adapted to dwellings and other buildings across the site.

Evidence of early Christian occupation has been uncovered in previous excavations, supporting theories that a chapel once stood at the entrance to the site, and this has been translated into the 3D design.

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Dr Kevin Grant, HES Director of Archaeology, said: “Burghead Fort was one of the most important places in early medieval Scotland and was built to be spectacular and imposing.

“These reconstructions help us imagine living this spectacular site at its peak. We are also delighted to support these excavations, which are transforming our understanding of Pictish Scotland and saving important archaeological remains from being lost to the waves.

Watterson added: “Burghead has certainly been one of our most challenging projects to date. Not only is it one of the largest sites I have rebuilt, but in order to model its full extent, we have had to completely reshape the landscape to remove the modern city and rebuild the eroded cliffs.”