Ogham inscription discovered on Pictish cross found near Doune

Such inscriptions are relatively rare in Scotland, with only 35 currently known

During a recent excavation at Old Kilmadock, near Doune in Stirlingshire, archaeologists were preparing to lift and conserve a Pictish cross first discovered there in 2019 when they found a rare ogham inscription running along its edge (BELOW). Such inscriptions are relatively rare in Scotland, with only 35 currently known, making this an important discovery for our understanding of them.

IMAGE: courtesy of Murray Cook

Old Kilmadock was once home to a significant early medieval ecclesiastical site, although all that now survives of its religious past is a ruined church surrounded by a disused graveyard. A number of carved stones have been recovered from the area including, in 1894, a stone with a Latin-letter inscription that was pulled from the nearby Annet Burn. It was given to Edward Nicholson, then the head of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and is now housed in the Ashmolean Museum. More recently, in 2019, the volunteer group Rescuers Of Old Kilmadock (ROOK for short) discovered a Pictish cross-slab and other fragments of early medieval sculpture on the site. Elements of decoration on the cross-slab are comparable with Insular metalwork of the 6th and 8th centuries AD, and beneath it are the remains of an animal image, carved in a Pictish style.

This year, a team of archaeologists joined the ROOKs to re-excavate the find-spot of the cross-slab to prepare for lifting and conservation. On the second day of the excavation, however, they were surprised to discover an ogham inscription along its edge. Ogham is a type of alphabet made by carving strokes over, or to, a stemline, which on monuments is usually the edge of the stone. Ogham was probably invented in Ireland in the 5th century AD or earlier, but ogham inscriptions are also found in Wales and Scotland.

The cross-slab at Old Kilmadock is one of the most westerly examples of ogham to be discovered in Scotland (other examples are known from the west coast and the Highlands). Once the cross is lifted in the next season of excavation by archaeologists from Stirling Council and Glasgow University, the ogham will be fully visible and hopefully interpreted. In addition, the potential carvings on the back of the stone will be seen for the first time in centuries. The estimate for conserving this nationally significant monument is expected to be £20,000-£50,000. While the team aim to win some of this from funding bodies, they hope to raise the rest through the generosity of the public. Watch this space for more information.

TEXT: Kelly Kilpatrick