ARCHAEOLOGISTS are hailing the discovery of an 8th-century Pictish stone that was found on a beach in Sanday.

Jackie Sinclair shared the story of the incredible find of the slab featuring a Christian cross, which would once have stood on a hill overlooking a nearby bay.

Her husband Malcolm was digging out sand doing farm work on the Orkney island when he came across the large rock, throwing it aside at the time.

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A couple of months later, after returning, Jackie noticed that the rain had washed off part of the stone and spotted what appeared to be engravings.

The National:

The entire stone is around 2.5m in length, with the cross itself around 1.5m.

Speaking to BBC’s Around Orkney, Jackie said: “We wanted to ask someone rather than touch it or do any more damage, so I contacted [archaeologist] Cath Parker.

“I sent her photographs asking if it could be carved by people and she asked me to draw the design as far as I saw it.

“I went off down to the stone, and by the time I got back she left me a message saying: ‘I found out more about it, don’t touch it!’

“I took some photos and they went round the academic world and everyone went ‘oh my God, that’s so exciting’.”

She added on Facebook: “It has been confirmed as an 8th-century Pictish cross from very early Christian period and an extremely special find apparently.

“All the experts are very excited about the find, so we're expecting more visitors over the next wee while.

“I think the next exciting development will be when it can be turned over safely and we can see what's on the reverse.”

County archaeologist Julie Gibson recognised small circles in the images as being the corners of a cross.

The National:

Also speaking on the radio show, Gibson said: “I may stand to be corrected, but it looks to be an 8th-century Christian cross designed to stand on end.

“The stone is very worn so it’s very hard to see whether there was further decoration but it certainly looks like there may have been.

“At the moment it’s too big and heavy and probably fragile so we don’t want to turn it over, so we don’t know if it’s a purely Christian stone or whether on the other side it may have some pagan symbolism.”

It’s unclear exactly what purpose the stone would have served – but possibilities include a waymarker, a gateway to an estate or a grave marker.