The archeology of death allows us to see the society of the living from a unique angle, oscillating between fear and fascination. However, beyond the existential questions she laid to each of us, thestudy of dead is very insconstructive, it testifies to the various physical reactions and social issues of the living in the face of the inevitable. Funerary archeology is a raw and imperfect source, the ideology behind the gestures will not be able to to be glimpsed but it encourages reflection, it tends to look at itself deeply and differently.

Dfuneral practices tenuous…

The remains deliver dare information vsrevitalizing on the organization of the cemetery, the burial and on the deceased. Munfortunately, the studies of biological anthropologythat on sites in Great Britain are tricky because the acidity of the soil destroyed usually bones, gender and age are therefore not still known vai this intermediary. In this context, taphonomic studies graves provide first- class data importances. Taphonomy provides information on the natural, artificial or accidental processes that occur in the soil, for example, we can detect ancient traces of plants, burrowing animals or even looting.s. TAll soil disturbances and corpse decomposition processes are identified and allow to perceive more finely the evolution of the tomb.

Garbeg Cemetery

Fig.1: Drawing from the cemetery of Garbeg, burial in long cist tomb (source: Mike Moore, NOSAS)

Mhave varieds

Meven if the discoveries are few numerous, archaeologists observe a big variety in the funeral practices from the north of Scotland : Ifuneral sets identified as Picts are often vscharacterized by small groups of yourtres (earth) or cairns (stone), r-shapedwave or cstopped, sometimes by of long youcistus char (delimiteds by stone slabs) Where of simple graves in the ground or even cremations. The cairns can accommodate several burials (up toto 5 or 6 people) while the burial mounds still contain only one tomb. Surprisingly, thecombination of these two types of architecture in the same contemporaneity can be found in cemeteries andbetween the 3and and 6and century, as on the Tarradale site (fig.2).

Tarradale Cemetery, photo by Andy Hickie Ancient Civilizations

Fig.2: Tarradale Cemetery, combination of round and square burial mounds (source: Andy Hickie, BBC)

Dand more, topographical studies reveal that the cemeteries are located in height, near roads or waterways and, more rareis lying, symbolic stones . Finally, itunlike theirs next tos Anglo-Saxons, Iare you grave contain little or no furniture. Objects can give chronological indications and typological as well as hypotheses as to the identity of the deceased (sex, social status), their absence is therefore a loss of information but she hashead homogeneity of gestures funeral. Let us add that thee furniture is not the only way to know part of theidentity of the corpse, in effect, the construction of this type of structure requires collective action which implies the existence of a hierarchy. VSThis suggests that the monuments were dedicated to an elite or, at least, to people of special status. Furthermore, the spulverization may have contained ddeposits organic or vegetal which leavesent few traces in the ground.

QWhat are the choices that determined these practices? Do unfurnished burials bear witness to Christianization, which abandoned signs of wealth? Shapes architectural used significant? Does this reflect a cultural influence? Is there a specific social distinction? The few individuals identified are adults between 25 and 45 years old, women of childbearing age or warriors. IThe elderly, children and infants are not visible in these monuments funeral, except in the royal site of Forteviot where a 3 year old child was buried. FFaced with this strange lacuna, the researchers hypothesize excarnation – the flesh is removed before burial – or direct exposure of the corpse to natural elements, a practice detected byrant theprevious periods. Anyway, the picts seem very imaginative in their funerary practices!

Rhynia: Between fortification, symbolic stones and burial mounds

Cistus tomb of Rhynie ancient civilizations

Fig.3: female cistus tomb (?), 400-570 AD. AD, Rhynie (source: NOSAS).

HAS Rhynia, a cemetery was discovered less than 500m from the fortified structures in the valley and near symbolic stones (see article on housing). Stone “Rhynie 3” (the spear warrior) has moreover been foundand in association with a cairn. In 2013, the excavation identified 2 square burial mounds aaccompanied, for one, by a large pregnant square 20m in diameter and, for the other, of a smaller pregnant 16m in diameter. The mounds measured between 4-4.5m and were oriented NE / SW, one contained a tomb, at long vsist and lined with stones, probably female (fig.3), the other contained only traces of a wooden coffin. Radiocarbon dating places burials between 400 and 570 AD. J.-C, that is to say at the same period as the fort.


Lmonumental cemeteries prosfather during the formation period of the first kingdoms North (5th-6th century) where the search for a Pictish identity was more pressing. Indeed, the construction of mound and cairn stands out from the others funeral practices observed in the rest of theScotland. They cover a larger area than previously thought, research has proven thatthey were not limited uniquely in the east and north-east of Scotland but that they were also in the west of the country. At 7and century, these funerary models diminish to leave square at the Christian cemeteries at 8and century.


Ewan CAMPBELL, Forteviot Pictish Cemetery Excavation 2010 Data Structure Report[en ligne] , University of Glasgow, published 2010, accessed 07/07/2020, URL:

– Gordon NOBLE[et al.] , Between prehistory and history: the archaeological detection of social change among the Picts , Antiquity Publications, 2013.

– Juliet M.ITCHELL, Gordon N.BLE, The Monumental Cemeteries of Northern Pictland [en ligne], Medieval Archaeology , 2017, consulted on 07/07/2020


P.-J. ASHMORE, Iohw Cairns, Long Cists and Symbol Stones, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1979.



VScatalog Canmore, of National Record of the Historic Environment :

– C atalog Canmore : Rhynie, Pictish stones and complex – Aberdeenshire, accessed on 07/07/2020, URL:

– NOSAS Archeology Blog: R oland Spencer-Jones: Pictish Burial Practices and Remains

[en ligne], published in 2017, URL: