Pictish Language, Stones and Symbols

If you called them Celtic hieroglyphics, you’d not be far wrong. The Picts had no written language consisting of letters of the alphabet. All we have are artifacts bearing their symbols. And we believe the symbols tell stories, but sometimes we’re not so sure what those stories are. This page shows some of those symbols and the stones they decorated with them.

No one speaks “Pictish”. We are not even sure of its linguistic roots. We only have slightly over 100 of their words and almost all of those are proper names and place names. Here are a couple you probably are not familiar with, however. The Romans called them Picts, referring to their tattoos. The word “Picture” is a derivative of that original name. Want another one? Pull a dollar bill out of your wallet. We also call it a “buck.” Why? Because its a method of currency, just like the early settlers used buckskins for trading, as a form of currency. When we say buckskin, we think of a tanned deer hide. But tanned cow hide was also used in the same way, in our country, as well as in Britain. The Pictish name for cattle was “bok.” So, it wasn’t a “buckskin”, it was a “bokskin.”
And when the church came to Britain, Latin became more prevalent. And so the Pictish “Bok” got changed to the Latin “Bos.” And still today, farmers call their cows: “Here bossy, here bos.”

The Pictish symbols border each one of the pages of this blog. There are images of different animals such as the eagle, bear, snake, wolf, goose, salmon, deer and the unusual “Pictish Beast.” We also see symbols representing tools and some rather unusual geometric shapes. The meanings of many of these are unclear at the present time.

Lastly the Picts were famous for their standing stones. The Callenish site is shown at the top of the blog and many other stones are scattered around Scotland, quite a few having symbols on them. A few are shown below.


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