A RARE stone carved by the Picts, the ancient people of north and north-east Scotland, is to go on public display for the first time from today at Elgin Museum.

Described as a national treasure, the Dandaleith Stone is a Pictish monument which was uncovered by a farmer in a field at Dandaleith, near Craigellachie, almost two years ago when he broke his plough on the one tonne granite boulder.

The stone was declared treasure trove and the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel awarded it to Elgin Museum, the country’s oldest independent museum, which promised to conserve this very rare find. The stone, made of solid pink granite boulder, has incised decoration on two adjoining faces. The other two faces show no obvious signs of carving.

The official description states: “Face 1 is incised with a large crescent, with crescent and V-rod below. Face 2 is incised with a mirror case symbol, with notch rectangle and Z-rod below.

“The stone may be unique in having two pairs of symbols carved on the same orientation on two adjoining faces.”

With assistance from experts around the country, including the Graciela Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation workshop in Leith, the stone has now been fully conserved and will be the centrepiece of a display of Pictish stones and decorations.

Elgin Museum said on their website: “The new display has been designed to showcase the wonderful art of the Pictish carved stones, allowing the visitor to see them at their best and appreciate the workmanship.”

It is not known how the stone came to be buried in a field but some archaeologists have speculated a flood in 1829, the Muckle Spate, may have moved it there. Others say the stone and its carvings are in good condition suggesting it was erected where it was found.

Claire Herbert, regional archaeologist at Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service, said at the time: “Members of the public regularly contact the Archaeology Service about artefacts they have found, but the reporting of the Dandaleith Stone was something truly unexpected, a real rarity.

“To our knowledge, this is a truly unique find which has the potential to alter our understanding of Pictish symbol stones.”

Dr David Clarke, former Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Scotland, said: “The presence of two sets of symbols on a single stone is itself a very unusual feature relative to the corpus of symbol-bearing stones, but the presence of two sets of symbols on adjacent faces may be unique.

“The corresponding orientation of the sets of symbols is also a very unusual feature.”

Elgin Museum have stated that entry is free today, with music and an Easter trail plus other new exhibits, including new metal detecting finds from the region.

Who were the Picts? Hamish MacPherson tells all...

THE first thing to know about the Dandaleith Stone and all other Pictish stones is that while they may have been influenced by earlier stone monuments, they are nothing to do with the standing stones of the isles such as Callanish (Callanais) on Lewis.

Those were erected thousands of years before the Picts started to carve their own monuments in stone, which archaeologists and historians think they made to commemorate great people or battles – and they had plenty of those. Picts is the collective name for the confederation of several tribes who occupied the north and east of Scotland in the first millennium.

They were given their name – it comes from the Latin pictus, or painted, because they wore tattoos – by the Romans, and we do not even know what the Picts called themselves because their language is lost to us.

What we know about these ancient Celtic peoples largely derives from their stones and other archaeology such as brochs spread across Caledonia, as the Romans called their territory.

The Romans often reached agreements with the peoples of southern Scotland but were never reconciled with the Picts, who joined with tribes from Ireland – the Scotti, or Scoti – and even Europe to attack the common enemy. Roman sources speak of many battles against the tribes at that time.

Even after Columba and his disciples converted most Picts to Christianity, they remained warlike and fought first the Angles and then the Saxon invaders in particular – the Battle of Dunnichen (Nechtansmere) in 685 was their finest hour when a Pictish force destroyed that of the Saxon king of Northumberland.

Intermarriage and peaceful co-existence with the Scots saw the two peoples integrate to form one kingdom, Alba, and by the 11th century the Picts were no longer a separate people.

They remain fascinating, however, largely because of the mystery of their lost language and their magnificent stones.