Conservation work on Sanday symbol stone complete

The Sanday symbol stone. (Frank Bradford)

The Sanday symbol stone. (Frank Bradford)

Conservation work on a 1,200 year-old carved Pictish stone cross from Sanday is now complete.

The decorated stone slab was found during renovation work on a house near Lady village in 2011 — lying prone under the floor of the property — and appears to have been damaged during the construction of the house, possibly in the 19th century.

Approximately 4ft 6in long, the stone is thought to have been made in the 8th century AD, when Christianity was being brought to Orkney. The carving showed both a Christian cross and a Pictish “sea creature” symbol.

County archaeologist Julie Gibson explained: “The stone was transferred to Edinburgh, where Historic Scotland have very kindly carried out the conservation work on the symbol stone. That means that a stone that was in many pieces when it was recovered is now beautifully restored.”

“As suspected, the stone was decorated on the other side. Although the carving was very faint, it appears to have been decorated with what appears to be a disc motif.”

According to Mrs Gibson, the stone will remain in Edinburgh awaiting a decision by the Treasure Trove advisory panel, the official body that will decide whether to allocate the artefact back to Orkney.

“This was the first of its kind to be found in Orkney,” said Mrs Gibson. “We have a symbol stone featuring the ‘sea horse’ motif that came up in St Andrews some years ago, but this is the first carved stone that we can definitely say is a Class Two Pictish symbol stone.”

Historians and archaeologists have classified Pictish symbol stones into two distinct groups, depending on the form of the stone and the symbols found thereon.

Class One stones are believed to be the earliest, having symbols carved into larger boulders or stone slabs. These are thought to have been carved in the sixth/seventh centuries, but continued to be created well into the period of the Class II stones.

The Class II stones feature symbols carved in relief on rectangular, shaped slabs. These stones often feature Christian elements or scenes alongside the Pictish symbols, and are found around the Moray Firth and Tayside in Scotland. Class II stones are thought to date from the eighth and ninth century — a time when the Picts were converting to Christianity.

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