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Cairn (Period Unassigned), Long Cist(S) (Early Medieval), Pictish Symbol Stone (Pictish)

Site Name Dunrobin

Classification Cairn (Period Unassigned), Long Cist(S) (Early Medieval), Pictish Symbol Stone (Pictish)

Canmore ID 6576

Site Number NC80SW 24

NGR NC 8494 0057

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Golspie
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Sutherland
  • Former County Sutherland

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Dunrobin, Sutherland, Pictish symbol stone

Measurements: H 1.12m, W 0.58m, D 0.13m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: NC 8494 0057

Present location: Dunrobin Museum (ARC 532), Dunrobin Castle.

Evidence for discovery: found in 1854 re-used as a cover slab (with the carved face uppermost) for one of two long cists located near Dunrobin Castle.

Present condition: good.


This slab bears four finely incised Pictish symbols. At the top is a nicely detailed salmon, beneath is a tuning fork and below that a mirror with a double-sided comb close beside it on the right. The central rib of the comb is decorated with hatched lines.

Date: seventh century.

References: ECMS pt 3, 42; Close-Brooks 1980, 343-4; Fraser 2008, no 138.

Archaeology Notes

NC80SW 24 8494 0057.

NC 8494 0047 (OS 6"map, annotated by J Close-Brooks 13 February 1977).

A long cist, partly covered by a Class I symbol stone and containing the skeletons of two adult males, one, of a man 6ft tall, being larger, later and much better preserved than the other, was found by workmen levelling the E part of the field below Castle Dairy (NC 8475 0050), 'six paces west from the new wall of Meg's Garden'. (Information contained in letter from G Gunn to Duke of Sutherland, 17 May 1854: MS 606.6 in Aberdeen University library). A report of the find was sent to the Duke of Sutherland on 17th May 1854 and it was examined by Dr Ross on 24 May.

It was paved, 8ft long NE-SW and the top and sides were each composed of three slabs. One of the cover slabs, of red sandstone, measured 3ft 8ins by 1ft 11ins by 5ins thick, and bore, incised, the fish, the 'tuning fork' and the mirror and comb symbols. The skeletal remains were accompanied by what has been identified as part of the socket of an iron spearhead, possibly Viking (Grieg 1940).

During Ross's visit, the workmen uncovered another long cist of similar construction and orientation, which contained the intact extended skeleton of a male of advanced years, lying with the feet to the NE. The remains were of the same size and condition as that of the primary burial in the first cist. There were neither grave-goods nor sculptures.

The Duke of Sutherland presented the contents of the cists to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) (Accession nos: ET 26 and IL 209), and the symbol stone is in Dunrobin Museum (Accession no: 1854.1).

These cists, together with that recorded on NC80SW 16, indicate the possible existence of a pre-Norse long cist cemetery comparable to Ackergill (ND35SW 12), with a later, possibly Viking, burial inserted into one of the cists.

(Previous to the publication of J Close-Brooks (1981) these cists were sited to NC 858 010 from Allen's locating them to 'the 50ft contour, half a mile east of Dunrobin Castle'.)

J J Ross 1855; National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) 1892; J Anderson and J R Allen 1903; RCAHMS 1911; S Grieg 1940; J Close-Brooks 1981; Information from TS of Catalogue of Dunrobin Museum, by A S Henshall; OS 6"map annotated by A S Henshall,

13 February 1977.

A stone found in 1854 formed the capstone of a cist; the location (to the SW of the Castle not to the E as was formerly thought) is discussed in Close-Brooks 1980, 343-4. This stone bears the incised symbols of a fish, 'tuning fork', and mirror and comb. Dunrobin Museum.

RCAHMS 1985.

Class I - Dunrobin 1 - symbol stone bearing a salmon over a tuning fork and a mirror-and-comb.

A.Mack 1997


Magnetometry (11 July 2015 - 18 July 2015)

NC 8494 0057 As part of the Northern Picts project surveys and excavations have been undertaken in an area stretching from Aberdeenshire to Shetland targeting sites that can help contextualize the character of society in the early medieval period in northern Pictland.

A magnetometer survey was carried out, 11–18 July 2015, in the area called the Dairy Park, S of Dunrobin Castle, in an area where a Pictish square cairn and symbol stone has been found. The survey revealed an old boundary line and highly disturbed area where a corn-drying kiln was excavated by Close-Brooks. No evidence for burials or features which may be associated with the Pictish symbol stones was discovered.

Archive: University of Aberdeen

Funder: University of Aberdeen Development Trust in association with the Tarbat Discovery Centre

Gordon Noble and Oskar Sveinbjarnarson – University of Aberdeen

(Source: DES, Volume 16)


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