Dr Martin Sweatman decodes ancient Pictish symbols

The School’s Dr Martin Sweatman has decoded a system of Pictish symbols and revealed its link with other symbol systems used by ancient civilisations across the world.

The Pictish riddle

The Picts were an ancient people who inhabited what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the first millennium AD, and probably before.

Named by the Romans after the paint they wore – ‘Pict’ is thought to have originated from the Latin word for “painted or tattooed people” – the Picts are famous for carving a mysterious series of symbols into megalithic pillars, which have resisted a clear interpretation, until now.

Ancient systems of meaning

Dr Sweatman, who is a Reader in Chemical Engineering in the School, had previously used his scientific training to decode an early zodiacal system found across western Eurasia, from European Palaeolithic caves to sites in Turkey, Egypt and Mesopotamia. He has now gone one step further by linking Pictish symbols to this system.

The decoded symbol meanings reveal striking parallels with the known ancient zodiac, including the eagle (representing Sagittarius, the winter solstice constellation) and a ‘Pictish beastie’ which closely resembles the ibex symbol for Gemini (the summer solstice constellation). 

Dr Sweatman’s theory connects ancient Scottish culture with other cultures across tens of thousands of years, including the place where civilisation probably began, at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.

Find out more on Dr Sweatman’s blog