Case Study: Conan Pictish Cross Slab

Susan Kruse

In 2019, a Pictish cross slab was discovered near Conon Bridge during a graveyard survey of an old chapel site. The stone is in poor condition, split and worn, but much of the detail can be made out. Some of the motifs are unique and others link to sculpture from southern Pictland. Previously no cross slabs were known from the area, only scattered symbol stones at Dingwall (MHG9031), Strathpeffer (MHG43542), Torgorm, near Conon Bridge (MHG9023) and Cotterton, near Tore (MHG54302). Slightly further afield, there were major monastic centres with cross slabs at Rosemarkie and Portmahomack.

Figure 1: Photographs showing all four faces of the Conan Pictish Stone ©HES

The North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NoSAS) and Pictish Arts Society (PAS) joined together to pay for initial removal for conservation, and then spearheaded a successful campaign to raise funding for conservation and installation in Dingwall Museum.

Stone being lifted from the ground to a cart.
Figure 2: The stone being lifted from the old chapel near Conan Bridge  ©NoSAS

A recent metal detecting find from Conon Bridge of a pin from a penannular brooch (MHG48673), probably dating to the Pictish period, also provides some context for settlement in the area, though we have no other evidence. This is displayed at Inverness Museum, along with an example of the type of brooch it would have been used with.

Part of the Conan stone had been reused as a gravemarker in the 18th century. Similar reuse is not unknown, with the Hilton of Cadboll (MHG8546) and Golspie (MHG10890) Pictish cross slabs also adapted in the 18th century, and in the case of the Hilton of Cadboll stone, resulting in one whole face razed to make way for a new inscription. Medieval gravestones were also reused, as in an example at Kiltearn near Evanton (MHG8130). Fortunately, in the case of the Conan stone only one area was reused, and it possibly had already been an area which had laminated previously.

More details about the discovery can be found on the NoSAS blog by Anne MacInnes where there are a number of pictures.

The find is confirmation, if needed, that important objects can still be found, even just lying on the ground. It also provides important evidence of Pictish activity in this area of Easter Ross.