The date of unique symbolic carvings, from various contexts across north and east Scotland, has been debated for over a century. Excavations at key sites and direct dating of engraved bone artefacts have allowed for a more precise chronology, extending from the third/fourth centuries AD, broadly contemporaneous with other non-vernacular scripts developed beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire, to the ninth century AD. These symbols were probably an elaborate, non-alphabetic writing system, a Pictish response to broader European changes in power and identity during the transition from the Roman Empire to the early medieval period.
Bibliographical noteThanks go to Gail Drinkall (Orkney Museum) and our funders: Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service, Historic Environment Scotland, The Strathmartine Trust and the University of Aberdeen Development Trust. Isabel Henderson helped to refine Table 1. Fraser Hunter and Alice Blackwell read and commented on an earlier draft. The writing of this article was also supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award (RL-2016-069).