The REAP ProjectThe first millennium AD saw the development of kingdoms in northern Europe, but unfortunately we only have a meagre understanding of the social and political organization of the Pictish kingdoms. The archaeological and historical record for this period (c.300-900 AD) is diffuse and difficult. Our few written sources imply there were multiple kings and fluid kingdoms competing for power.
The work of the Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project (REAP) is revealing a sophisticated power centre of the Northern Picts, which was never recorded in the contemporary historical sources. Rhynie has long been known for its concentration of Pictish Class I Symbol Stones. These carved monuments probably date to the second half of the first millennium AD, and depict animal and abstract symbols. The symbols on these stones probably conveyed names or identities and these are likely to have been high status given the resources invested in these monuments. They are monuments showing the power and vitality of the Pictish region and give archaeologists and historians a way into thinking about the identities, beliefs and lifestyles of the time.
The REAP project has been focusing on the immediate surroundings of the Craw Stane, a Pictish stone carved with a fish and a ‘Pictish beast.’ The project is directed by Dr Gordon Noble, University of Aberdeen, and Dr Meggen Gondek, University of Chester and has been running since 2005 when a geophysical survey was first undertaken around the Craw Stane. Previous work by Aberdeen Archaeology Services had shown an enigmatic cropmark complex near the stone of unknown function and date. In 2011 and 2012 REAP carried out an evaluation of the Craw Stane enclosures that identified the cropmarks as a series of impressive earthwork and timber defences, consisting of an inner and outer ditch and an incredible outer palisade and post setting creating a timber enclosure wall. Inside the enclosures were a number of other structures including a post-built rectangular building or hall.
Along with the structural evidence the excavations uncovered a rich finds assemblage that underlines the importance of the site. There were finds of bronze pins and other metalwork as well as evidence for on-site non-ferrous metalworking. There were also sherds of eastern Mediterranean Late Roman Amphorae (B ware) and at least one imported glass drinking vessel from western France. The amphorae sherds are particularly important as they can be dated to the earlier sixth century and were the result of trading contacts with the Byzantine Empire probably via western Scotland. It is very rare to find this type of pottery, particularly in this region, and it is usually found at high status, often royal, sites in western Britain and Ireland. A series of radiocarbon dates from both 2011 and 2012 seasons suggests the site belongs to a short phase of construction and use in the late-fifth to mid-sixth-century, c.450-550 cal AD, contemporary with these high status finds.
REAP has also investigated, in 2013 and 2014, areas to the north of the Craw Stane near the village of Rhynie. In this area there is evidence for earlier (e.g. Iron Age) activities as well as a Pictish cemetery. REAP’s work is ongoing and upcoming phases include further investigation of the Craw Stane enclosure complex as well as the surrounding areas. Our blog carries updates on our work and more detail can be found on our ‘Reading and More Information’ page, too.
REAP 2011 Data Structure Report
REAP 2012 Data Structure Report
2012 paper given by the REAP co-directors at the Scotland in Early Medieval Europe conference in Feb 2012: Landscapes of Power