Pictish Pin from Golspie

04 November 2019

News Type:
Find of the Month
© National Museums of Scotland

In 1974 a decorated gilt bronze pin was dug up in the garden of a resident in Golspie. This pin, subsequently donated to the NMS, was identified as a unique cast Pictish dress pin, dating to the 7th or 8th Century. The shaft is bent and broken with the point missing, but otherwise it was in good condition. The remaining part measures 55mm long, and the flat head of the pin, 20mm long and 15mm wide, is what make it so unique, as it is decorated with the frontal representation of a human face. Although the corpus of evidence is small, this appears to be very rare within Pictish art.

The face represented on the pin is clearly male as below the chin is a pattern of interlace representing a beard. The man’s eyes are large and oval and his ears protrude from the otherwise oval shaped head of the pin. Across the man’s forehead are three horizontal lines, giving the appearance perhaps of a furrowed brow, a more aged face or perhaps painted or tattooed lines. Whatever they represent, there was clearly some significance behind this design feature. The surface of the face was gilded, although all that survives of this are traced within the crevices. This gilding, along with the design, would have made for a very striking piece of jewellery.

Human representation within local indigenous cultures is rare before the mid first millennium AD, and even after this, within the Pictish culture it is mostly limited to figures carved in profile on symbol stones. No other pin of the type from Golspie is known and it cannot be paralleled in metalwork. The closest comparison is a possible whetstone from Portsoy, Banffshire, now in the British Museum. On either end of this small, elongated pebble are oval shaped, incised faces with horizontal lines across their foreheads, designs of the same style as the Golspie pin. The whetstone additionally includes symbols of fish, crescents and a cross, further suggesting a Pictish context for it, and by association, the Golspie pin.

There are a number of other Pictish finds from Golspie and the surrounding neighbourhood including symbol stones, brooches and cist burials. It is clear that the area was populated in the Pictish period; this pin is likely to have belonged and been used by a more elite member of society here, a symbol of their higher social status. Its uniqueness makes the pin an important and significant find for the period and the area.

The pin is part of the collections of National Museums Scotland. Its accession number is X.FC 301.

Further Information

Close-Brooks, J. 1975. A Pictish Pin from Golspie, Sutherland. Proc Soc Antiq Scot. 106 (1977-5): 208-10 (available online from ADS)

Ritchie, A., Scott, I. G. & Gray, T. E. 2006. ‘A fine face from Golspie’ in People of Early Scotland from contemporary images.  Angus: The Pinkfoot Press



Submitted by Grace Woolmer

Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH), The Goods Shed, The Old Station, Strathpeffer, Ross-Shire, Scotland IV14 9DH
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