The intrigue of the Picts

The February lecture in the 2010/2011 season of the Pictish Arts Society will again be given in the Brechin Town House Museum in the High Street.

Society members will welcome Jill Harden on Friday, February 18 as the guest speaker.

Jill Harden is an archaeologist who has been living and working in the Highlands for many years.

She has had opportunities to work in museums, both local and national, to survey and excavate sites, and to interpret aspects of our cultural heritage for the wider public.

Some 20 years ago Jill kicked off the Portmahomack project, which Professor Martin Carver and his team from York University have proved to be a Pictish monastery of great standing - the Iona of the east. Since then she has developed research projects associated with far-flung places like St Kilda and North Rona but they are all based on her fascination with the Pictish period - that time between prehistory and history when societies and economies throughout the British Isles were going through great upheavals.

“A challenging journey: an overview of the Picts” is an exploration of where experts in the field (historians, archaeologists, art historians, linguists and others) have reached in their understanding of this complex time – c350 to 900AD.

It is based on work that has recently been completed for Historic Scotland, for their new series Discover Scottish History, and published as The Picts. There was the challenge – to summarise as succinctly as possible what the state of understanding was about the Picts towards the end of 2009.

Equally important, however, was the need to ensure that any such study did not just focus on the well-known Pictish lands of Angus and Perthshire.

The material evidence is so much richer than that. From Shetland to Fife and from Aberdeenshire to the Western Isles, high-ranking Picts developed allegiances that expanded and retracted as fortunes waxed and waned.

Whether represented by kingly power or the control of religious beliefs, Pictish lives gradually changed over time, just as today.

The ordinary folk were swept along in these power struggles, either in actuality or by feeling the knock-on effects. There were changes from traditional beliefs to Christianity, in language, and in representation of status.

All were brutally affected by Viking onslaughts, and the longer-term impacts are still to be fully understood.

Yet all was dependent on what could be farmed from the land and the sea, and how that productivity might be affected by nature: rain or snow, plague or pestilence.

In reviewing all of these aspects of the Pictish period, various strands for future research emerge.

And it is these areas of research which are perhaps most intriguing: we now know so much about these centuries and yet, as with all other periods of the human past, there are still so many unanswered questions.

The new venue at Brechin Town House Museum is necessary whilst Pictavia is closed for refurbishment.

Doors open at the Museum for a 7.30 pm start. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available after the talk which is free to members and £2.50 to non-members.