The Picts: Life of feasting, drinking, gaming and riches uncovered at hilltop fort

It was a place where the powerful of Pictish society feasted, drank, played games and enjoyed riches forged through trade links with Europe.

Archaeologists at the site of the King's Seat Hillfort near Dunkeld where tantalising details of the lives of rich Picts have emerged. PIC: PKHT.

Fascinating details surrounding King’s Seat Hillfort near Dunkeld between the Seventh and Ninth Centuries have emerged following a large scale excavation of the site last year.

Led by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, an ‘amazing selection’ of artefacts, including fragments of drinking vessels, gaming pieces, glass beads and evidence of craft and metalworking, were uncovered at the commanding hilltop site which overlooks the River Tay.

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The Picts: How their mysterious world is being illuminated like never before
A decorated spindle whorl, which was used in textile production, found at the site. PIC: PKHT.

David Strachan, Director of Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, explained: “Today, Dunkeld has a great reputation as a social hub for arts, crafts and entertainment and our findings from King’s Seat suggest that the town’s hill top predecessor was just as vibrant in Pictish times.

“We have uncovered lots of evidence of how people were living and working, and the remains of a building with a large hearth on the summit, with fragments of glass drinking vessels, gaming pieces, animal bone and horn.

Spindle whorls, used in textile production, plus extensive remains from metal working activity found in trenches at the site have further unlocked details of everyday life at the fort.

The Picts are thought to have lived at the site from around the 7th to 9th Century AD. PIC: Contributed.

Cath MacIver of AOC Archaeology noted: “The crucibles, whetstones, stone and clay moulds indicate craft production took place and what’s particularly interesting is that evidence of this activity has been found in all of the trenches.

“There must have been a lot of iron and other metal working going on here making the site an important centre for production – not just the home of a small group of people making items for their own use.”

The artefacts uncovered are in keeping with other high-status, royal sites of early historic date in Scotland, including the early Dalriadic capital of Dunadd, in Argyll, and the Pictish royal centre of Dundurn near St Fillans by Loch Earn.

Evidence of the site’s importance has been reinforced by the discovery of fragments of high-status imported pottery from the continent and Anglo-Saxon glass beads.

A glass gaming piece found at King's Seat. PIC: PKHT.

These indicate that long range trading routes existed between the people of King’s Seat and Europe and the discoveries are of national significance as they extend the Early Medieval trade links and distribution of luxury table-wares in Scotland beyond previously understood limits.

A fieldwork report published on the finds brings to a close a three-year project to piece together the history of the site.

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust worked with Dunkeld & Birnam Historical Society, together with archaeological contractors AOC Archaeology Ltd on the project, which was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Gannochy Trust and Scottish & Southern Electric’s Griffin and Calliacher Windfarm Community Fund.

Around 30 community volunteers worked on the project along with secondary school pupils from Pitlochry High School and students on assessed archaeological fieldwork training from the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The results from King’s Seat follow the trust’s five-year project in Glen Shee, where a study of three turf, timber and thatch Pitcarmick longhouses revealed a prosperous Pictish farming community settled in the hills between the late 6th Century to the mid-9th Century.