Archaeologists make surprise discovery of Pictish hand and knee prints

The prints, believed to be more than 1,000 years old, were found during excavations in Orkney.

Archaeologists have discovered the hand and knee prints of a Pictish metal smith while excavating a settlement in Orkney.

Imprints of the smith’s hands and knees, believed to be more than 1,000 years old, were found in his workshop on the island of Rousay.

The building is part of a substantial Iron Age settlement which is being destroyed by the sea.

It is being examined as part of an excavation project directed by Dr Julie Bond and Dr Stephen Dockrill, both of the University of Bradford.

Pictish smithy
Pictish smithy in Orkney (Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust/PA)

Dr Dockrill said: “Work by archaeometallurgist Dr Gerry McDonnell, including analysis of crucible fragments and the floor deposits, has demonstrated that a copper smith worked in the building.

“The analysis of the floor enables us to say with confidence where the smith worked, next to a hearth and two stone anvils.

“The biggest surprise came when we lifted the larger stone anvil and cleaned it; we could see carbon imprints of the smith’s knees and hands.”

Pictish smithy
Archaeologists at work (Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust/PA)

The small cellular building, dating to a period between the 6th to 9th century AD, was semi-subterranean.

It was entered via steps and a curved corridor, which would have minimised the amount of light entering the smithy, allowing the smith to assess the temperature of the hot metal based on its colour.

The centre was dominated by the hearth, with a set upright stone on the doorward side protecting the hearth fire from drafts.

The project is funded by the Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, National Lottery, University of Bradford, Orkney Islands Council, Rousay Development Trust and the Orkney Archaeological Society.

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