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Unknown symbols written by the lost 'painted people' of Scotland unearthed

Baku, March 29, AZERTAC

Archaeologists in Scotland shed "genuine tears" upon discovering a stone covered with geometric carvings that the Picts, the Indigenous people of the region, designed about 1,500 years ago.

The team unexpectedly found the 5.5-foot-long (1.7 meters) carved stone while doing a geophysical survey in Aberlemno, a village with Pictish roots. The stone has several geometric shapes showing abstract Pictish symbols, such as triple ovals, a comb and mirror, a crescent and double discs. Some of the carved symbols overlap, suggesting that they were carved in different time periods, the researchers said.

It's unclear what all of the symbols mean, but the "best guess is that they are a naming system representing Pictish names," Gordon Noble, excavation leader and a professor of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, told Live Science in an email.

"It's the find of a lifetime, genuinely," James O'Driscoll, an archaeologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland who helped excavate the stone, said in a university video.

The Picts — possibly named after the Latin word for painted, or "picti," — were fierce people who lived in ancient and medieval times in parts of what is now Scotland. They are partly the reason why the Roman Empire never conquered Scotland.

The new finding is one of only about 200 such stones known to archaeologists. Other stones with Pictish symbols are also from Aberlemno, which is known for its unique standing stones, including a slab that may depict scenes from the Battle of Nechtansmere, a Pictish victory over the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in 685 A.D. that is tied to the creation of what would become Scotland.

The discovery happened in early 2020, when archaeologists were surveying the area as a part of the Comparative Kingship project, a five-year investigation into the early medieval kingdoms of northern Britain and Ireland. While moving imaging equipment across the grass, the team noticed anomalies suggesting that the remains of a settlement lay underground.

To learn more, the archaeologists dug a small pit to see what was hidden beneath their feet. To their astonishment, they found the carved Pictish stone. "I just brushed my hand, and there was a symbol," Zack Hinckley, an archaeologist at the University of Aberdeen who took part in the excavation, said in the video. "And we had a freakout."

The stone is now in the Graciela Ainsworth conservation lab in Edinburgh, where scientists plan to investigate the artifact further.

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