Friday, July 28, 2017

Burghead and its Bulls

Burghead was once the largest known Pictish fort, an impressive earthwork covering much of this peninsula on Scotland's north coast. It was probably the royal seat of the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu.

Then in the early nineteenth century a town was built here, probably to house some of the thousands of cotters being cleared from the Countess of Sutherland's massive estates. In the course of building the town, most of the fort was destroyed. But some salvage archaeology done over the course of the nineteenth century as the place expanded led to many discoveries, including more than two dozen of these lovely tablets known as the Burghead Bulls. Six still survive; this one is in the British Museum. Nobody knows what the bulls represent; perhaps this was the emblem of the ruling house.

Recently there has been more archaeology in Burghead, and it has led to some good results. Among other things the investigators think they have identified a long house dating to the 9th century, perhaps the hall of a Pictish king.

It is always a mistake to assume that later construction has destroyed archaeological sites; sometimes the destruction is thorough, but more often much has been buried and survives. After all remains of Roman London have been found among the City's office towers, and traces of 17th-century New Amsterdam in downtown Manhattan.

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