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Aberdeen Students Use Video Tech to Recreate ‘Earliest Pictish Fort’

Sinead Donnelly


Pictish fort

The video, funded by Historic Environment Scotland, shows what the fort may have looked like if the sea stack, called Dunnicaer, was still connected to the mainland.

A video, based on research by the University of Aberdeen, has outlined what one of the earliest known Pictish forts may have looked like.

The Picts were a confederation of several tribes who lived in what is today Eastern and Northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.

Archaeologists investigating a substantially eroded sea stack near the site of the ruined Dunnottar Castle, which itself was a later Pictish power centre, have uncovered evidence of a third or fourth century promontory fort.

The 3D animation illustrates what the fort may have looked like if the sea stack, called Dunnicaer, was still connected to the mainland.

Professor Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen said: “This video helps to fully visualise how the fort may have looked in the fourth century which we think helps to further bring to life the lives of the Picts, who are so poorly understood because of the lack of historical records.”

With the help of experienced mountaineers, the archaeologists were able to scale Dunnicaer, a rocky outcrop with perilous drops on all sides.

Professor Noble added: “We always knew that Dunnicaer was a site of major significance but carrying out an archaeological survey was hampered by the inaccessibility of the site. Thanks to the help of mountaineering experts, we were able to carry out some extreme archaeology.”


The team discovered partial remains of houses on the cliff edge, which reveals that much of the settlement had fallen into the sea. Evidence of turf and timber structures, preserved floor layers and hearths, which were built on top of one another suggest that the space is likely to have always been restricted on the site.

The inhabitants could have also had connections to the Roman world as Roman pottery and glass found on site. It appears the site was abandoned in the late fourth or early fifth century.

The site came to prominence in 1832, when a group of youths from Stonehaven scaled the sea stack and found a number of decorated and carved Pictish symbol stones, some of which they had thrown into the sea and had to be recovered.

Pictish symbol stones are a unique tradition of carving that may have denoted high status names. The radiocarbon dates for the settlement suggest that these stones may be amongst the earliest in the carving tradition.

Professor Noble highlighted his enthusiasm for the archaeology excavation on Dunnicaer at this time.

He said: “Coastal erosion is a huge threat to archaeological sites of this kind and the remaining stack will continue to erode.”

sinead photo

Sinead Donnelly


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