Peeblesshire Archaeological Society

– talk by John Borland of the Pictish Arts Society “The Conan Stone in Context”

First mentioned in late Roman sources, and sometimes described as a ‘lost people of Europe’, the Picts went on to form some of the most powerful kingdoms in northern Britain.  In particular, their rich legacy of carved stone monuments continues to intrigue and fascinate. In our talk this month we look forward to hearing about one of the most significant recent finds of Pictish art, when our invited guest speaker John Borland (formerly of Historic Environment Scotland) gives a presentation on ‘The Conan Stone in Context’.

In February 2019, Anne MacInnes was carrying out a routine survey of the burial ground at Logie Wester, near Conon Bridge in Easter Ross, when she made a series of remarkable discoveries.  Having planned the site, Anne, a member of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NoSAS) plotted all the grave markers, recording any inscriptions and ornament on them.  Whilst probing for stones just under the surface, she uncovered a series of previously unrecorded medieval recumbent cross slabs but the pièce de résistance of her survey was the top two-thirds of a Pictish cross slab.

Lying with its cross-bearing face downwards, the visible face bore two distinctive Pictish symbols, one partly obliterated by a late 18th century burial inscription, and a multitude of figurative motifs.   Both narrow sides were decorated with bold interlace.  Historic Environment Scotland (HES) recorded the stones in early April but as the stone was in re-use as a grave marker, and most probably in situ over the grave, it could not be declared Treasure Trove.  There was no automatic right to recover it and no funding to do so.

Under the co-ordination of Highland Council Regional Archaeologist Kirsty Cameron, the local landowner gave permission for the stone to be removed on the proviso that a replacement was laid over the grave.  NoSAS and the Pictish Arts Society (PAS) covered the initial cost of recovering the stone and then launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise £20,000 to cover the cost of its conservation and eventual display in Dingwall Museum.

The Conan Stone, as it is now called, joins an already outstanding local assemblage of high-status Pictish sculpture in Easter Ross.  Like many of its near neighbours, some of its ornament has close parallels in southern Pictland, but whereas the other Easter Ross cross slabs have themes linking one to the other, the Conan Stone arguably stands apart.  Most remarkable perhaps are the two monstrous beasts which surmount the cross, motifs without parallel.

In this talk, John Borland will examine the Conan Stone, identifying sculpture in Perthshire and Angus where much of its ornament and many of its figurative carvings may have originated from.  He will also compare it to the other Easter Ross cross slabs to see what, if any connections can be drawn.

John Borland worked as an archaeological surveyor for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and then latterly for HES, retiring in 2020 after 36 years.  In that time he recorded monuments of every type and date, from Neolithic chambered cairns to the concrete defences of WWII.  John is President of the Pictish Arts Society.

John’s talk will be live streamed via Zoom on THURSDAY 17th FEBRUARY commencing at 7.30pm. PAS MEMBERS will automatically receive an email invitation and link to the event. 

Interested in this or any of the other fascinating talks we have lined up until the spring? We are always delighted to welcome new members. 

For details of our programme and current subscription rates, check out the Membership page on our website (www.peeblesarchsoc.org.uk), where you can also contact us if you have a particular query.