Taking a Line for a Walker

Pictish stone from Tulloch, Perth, acquired by Perth Museum & Art Gallery in 2019 with an NFA Grant of £1,500.

Towards the end of 2017 new roadworks behind St Johnstone’s Football Stadium in Perth unexpectedly and thrillingly unearthed a fascinating and complete carved Pictish stone.

Pictish sculpture of a spear-carrying warrior

Pictish sculpture of a spear-carrying warrior © Perth Museum & Art Gallery

The stone is a large, oblong, glacial erratic of metamorphosed sandstone measuring some 2m in height and bearing on one face an incised figure around 1m high. The key features of this figure are that he is naked, carrying a particular type of spear (a door-knob butted spear that can be dated to the second quarter of the first millennium AD) and sporting a pushed-back, intimidating hair-style. The stone is a significant new addition to Scotland’s corpus of Pictish sculpture and in particular the small group of incised, walking, often-grotesque and ritually symbolic, single figures. The three closest parallels, all spear-carrying walkers, come from Rhynie (Aberdeenshire), Collessie (Fife) and Westerton (Angus).

The probable dating of these to the fifth or sixth century may be indicative of a society dominated by warbands led by warrior princes/kings in which spear-wielding warriors were of fundamental importance. The presence of such a sculpture in the Perth area certainly fills a gap between the end of the Roman military intervention and the later Picts and suggests the presence of an important nobleman’s hall and/or place of burial in the Tulloch area. Stylised depictions of such fearsome-looking warriors on large, highly visible stones could well have been seen as having a warning, protective role and a status/power signalling role as one approached such sites: communicating both with people and the supernatural.

Mark A Hall
Collections Officer
Perth Museum & Art Gallery

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