A PICTISH stone described as a “once-in-a-lifetime find” has been uncovered in the Highlands.

Thought to have been carved around 1200 years ago, the stone is decorated with Pictish symbols and is said by experts to be of national importance.

Discovered at an early Christian church site in Dingwall, it is believed the stone originally stood at more than two metres high.

It now measures around 1.5m, having been broken over the years and reused as a grave marker in the 1790s.

Anne MacInnes, from the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, was the first to recognise the stone while carrying out a survey at the church site.

She said: “I was clearing vegetation when I spotted the carving. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

The find was verified by archaeologists from Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland. It was removed from the site by specialist conservators on Thursday. It will be professionally conserved with a view to ultimately putting it on public display at a museum or other suitable venue.

Designs on the stone include mythical beasts, oxen, an animal-headed warrior with sword and shield, and a double disc and Z-rod symbol. Details of the carvings on the reverse side of the stone are not yet known, based on similar stones, they are likely to include a large ornate Christian cross. It would make the stone one of an estimated 50 complete or near complete Pictish cross-slabs known across the world, and the first to be discovered on the Scottish mainland for many years.

Kirsty Cameron, an archaeologist at Highland Council, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime find and what started as a small recording project has resulted in the identification of not only this important stone, but also that the site itself must be much older than anyone ever expected.”