Fort Built by Mysterious ‘Painted People’ During Dark Ages Found in Scotland

A fort that is more than 1,000 years old has been unearthed in Scotland, more than 200 years after it was thought to have been completely destroyed.

A digital reconstruction of a Pictish man’s head

The ancient fort was built by the Picts, a loose confederation of tribes who lived in what is now Scotland during the Dark Ages. The fort was likely a major source of power for the Pictish kingdom between A.D. 500 and 1000. In the 1800s, a town was built over the ancient stronghold, known as Burghead Fort, and most archaeologists thought the last remaining traces of the fort were destroyed at that time.

However, new archaeological excavations are revealing major structures hidden beneath the town, including a rare coin that dates to the period of Alfred the Great, an English king who fended off the Vikings during the heyday of their raids in the late 800s.

The digitally recreated face of the Pictish man.

“Beneath the 19th century debris, we have started to find significant Pictish remains,” Gordon Noble, head of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said in a statement.

Almost nothing survives of the mysterious Pictish culture, including the name they called themselves. The Romans first mentioned the Picts, which means “painted people,” likely because of their distinctive tattoos and war paint. However, relatively few Pictish writings survive, and much of what historians know about the Picts’ early history comes from the accounts of Roman speechwriters such as Eumenius.

In 2015, researchers from the University of Aberdeen set out to discover whether any of the ancient kingdom’s remains were left. Among the ruins and the the remains of a Pictish fort they found a coin emblazoned with the image of Alfred the Great.

The coin helps date the structure’s occupancy to the later part of the Pictish period, the researchers said.

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