MHG8546 - Symbol Stone - Hilton of Cadboll


No summary available.

Type and Period (3)

  • CROSS SLAB (CULTURE 300; CULTURE 900; , Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)
  • INSCRIBED STONE (Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)
  • GRAVE MARKER (17th Century - 1601 AD to 1700 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Site of Standing Stone (NR) (Sculptured)
OS 6" map, Ross-shire, 2nd ed., (1907)

The Hilton of Cadboll stone originally stood near ruins of chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary (NH87NE 6). It was used as a gravestone in 1676 when ornamentation on 1 face was removed and 17th century inscription substituted. Afterwards it lay near seashore until c.1811 and was later removed to Invergordon Castle for preservation. 1922 it was presented to NMAS, Edinburgh. (IB 189)
It is an upright cross-slab of rectangular shape 7.75 feet high x 4,5 feet wide.
J R Allen and J Anderson 1903; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1922. <1>

No further information. Visited by OS (I S S) 5 September 1972.

Class II symbol stone.
The cross on face has been destroyed.On reverse are a mounted female figure accompanied by other mounted figures, musicians and animals in a detailed hunting scene.A mirror and comb lie to the left and are surmounted by a crescent and V-rod : a double-disc and Z-rod are seen in a frame above.
A.Mack 1997 p.34 <2>

A topographic survey and geophysical surveys (comprising magnetometry and resistivity) were undertaken at the site by Field Archaeology Specialists (FAS) In 1997. These surveys formed part of a wider research evaluation programme being carried out at Hilton of Cadboll by Professor Carver of the University of York. The aim of the survey programme was to map sub-surface archaeological remains both in and around the earthwork site of Hilton of Cadboll. It was hoped that the geophysical surveys would define the focus or foci of the archaeological site allowing any further invasive evaluation work to be well targeted, thereby minimising its destructive impact on the site while maximising its research yield. A further objective of the survey was to identify the original position of the Hilton of Cadboll carved stone which is now in the care of the National Museums of Scotland. It had been proposed that a full-size replica of the stone should be erected on the site and a suitable location for the replica was required. The results of the geophysical surveys indicated that the site of chapel enclosure was more complex than suggested by the surviving earthwork features and seemed to suggest that the site was in use for a long period, being altered and adapted through time rather than being a single phase development which fell into disuse within a relatively short period. The surveys also identified previously unknown areas of potentially significant archaeological activity. <3>

A small excavation was undertaken by Kirkdale Archaeology in 1998 for Historic Scotland outside the earthworks of the west gable of the chapel at Hilton of Cadboll. The purpose was to locate the base of the Pictish cross slab, now in the NMS, prior to the erection of a reproduction on the site. The base was not located, but the excavations revealed that the D-shaped ‘annexe’ against the west gable was probably the result of 19th-century disturbance. Some of the sculpted debitage (40 individual fragments) from the re-dressing of one face of the cross slab in the late 17th century was retrieved. A vaulting rib amd mortar fragments probably from the construction of the chapel were also noted. <4>

An open area excavation was carried out at the site by Kirkdale Archaeology in 2001 as part of the ongoing assessment of the archaeological context of the scatter of stone debitage identified as having come from the Hilton of Cadboll Stone in 1998. An area west of the chapel ruins was sampled and all stone fragments retrieved. The area opened (initially 36m²) was gridded into 50 cm squares, with spoil being sieved, and carved fragments being recorded by 50 cm square. In this way, 740 carved fragments, and 122 possibly carved fragments were recovered. A 2 by 2 m. extension was added to the west side of the trench when it was discovered that the stump of the Hilton of Cadboll stone was still in-situ as a slab 140 cm long, by 21 cm wide, orientated north-south with surviving carving visible. Decoration, matching that reconstructed on the bottom panel of the surviving face, was noted on the east side of the stump, with sand built up against this, and carving continuing down. A small cut around the west face of the stump was filled with debris from the redressing of 1676, showing this to be an exploratory trench of this date, presumably in an abandoned attempt to remove the whole stone. This had revealed a large packing stone obscuring much of the carving, but that seen at the south end of the stump had a greater depth of relief than the surviving side, and also continued down, showing that much of the slab remained in the ground. The stone had been cut down, clear evidence of this surviving on the top of the stump, falling to the east. It had then been redressed on the site, with piles of debris being swept off the top of the recumbent slab, and recovered to the side of where it must have lain. Larger individual fragments recovered included one with a pair of human feet, and a couple of probable serpent's heads. The smaller debris seemed to be mostly fragments of key pattern interlace, but includes some round bosses. A fragment from a ring headed cross, in a stone of different geological origin, was also recovered. Due to the large number of fragments recovered much of the debitage, along with the stump itself, was left in the ground. This discovery had obvious implications for a clearer understanding of the archaeological context of the stone. The removal of one face of the stone in the 17th century for its recycling as a gravemarker had created the stone scatter, but the discovery of part of the stone in situ prompted a review of the programme of investigation. <5>

Further excavations were undertaken by GUARD in August and September 2001 at the site. The excavations aimed to retrieve all the remaining carved fragments from the 9th-century Pictish slab which was thought to have been defaced in the 17th century; to reveal the extent of the stump which was found earlier in the year by Kirkdale Archaeology; and to relate the stump with the chapel and the outer enclosure.

The original plan was to excavate an area 100m², centred on the stone stump and using the Kirkdale site grid, but in the event the final trench measured 88.5m². The extent of the excavation area was to extend in plan at least 1m beyond the piece of carved fragment retrieved furthest from the stump and in depth to the bottom of the deposit containing the carved debris. In addition a 1m wide trench was excavated in order to examine the relationships between the debris horizon, the chapel wall, the stump and the enclosure bank.

The excavations revealed that there were at least two settings for the Hilton stone about 6m outside the west gable of the chapel. The discovery of broken collar slabs and other flat slabs were indicative of some complexity in the setting and possible associated burials. The stump was excavated and taken for temporary storage locally. The newly revealed west face depicted a cross base and interlaced beasts and the east face completed the bottom panel of the Hilton of Cadboll stone, with a gap of about 0.2m. The slab had broken at the top and the bottom and there was still a fragment of the tenon in one of the settings. The bottom of the designed panels were not level on either side, and there were rough marking out lines below the panel on the east face suggesting some redesigning of the east face.

The chapel wall was constructed of massive sandstone blocks, bonded with shell mortar, with a rubble core. No direct dating evidence was found but it was thought to be a medieval chapel, which perhaps went out of use at the Reformation. The outer enclosure bank consisted of a drystone wall with an earthen bank probably of post-medieval date.

Three skeletons were excavated and another two were partly revealed. These had different alignments, from southwest-notheast to north-south, indicating a range of dates. These individuals were not buried in stone cists, suggesting that they were medieval and post-medieval. About 500 carved fragments were retrieved from the excavations, thought to be derived from the lost cross face and from the damaged east face. These included figurative pieces as well as interlacing, bosses and key patterning. <6>

An art-historical analysis of the stone and sculpture found during the GUARD excavations was undertaken by I Henderson in 2001. This examined in detail the symbolism of the carvings which was thought to convey a Christian message of Salvation. The female rider is an idealised vision of female authority and Christian integrity. The reconstructed figures on the cross-face are thought to represent Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. The similarities between this cross and other Pictish art suggested that the Hilton of Cadboll cross was carved in the late 8th century. <7>

Renumbered from NH87NE0006B
Jhooper, 4/11/2002

See Archaeology Library for research report entitled 'Early Medieval Sculpture and the Production of Meaning, Value and Place: The Case of Hilton of Cadboll' by Sian Jones, 2004 <8>

The results of all of the investigations were subsequently published in a Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph in 2008. The monograph includes the results of a program of post-excavation work which included analysis of the artefacts and other materials retrieved from the excavation. This involved analysis of the samples taken to measure the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), soil chemistry, radiocarbon dating of charcoal and skeletons, plus work on the GUARD database of sculpted fragments. The volume also discusses the issues surrounding the role of the stone in the local and national community. <9>

Hilton of Cadboll (St Mary), Ross and Cromarty, Pictish cross-slab fragments
Measurements: (reconstructed) H 3.50m, W 1.42m, D 0.21m
Stone type: fine-grained micaceous quartz sandstone
Place of discovery: NH 8730 7688
Present location: National Museums Scotland (X.IB 189) and Seaboard Centre, Balintore.
Evidence for discovery: the stone stood in its original stone setting at Hilton of Cadboll from the late eighth century onwards. It fell in the 12th century or earlier, and in the mid 12th century it was re-erected in a new stone setting close by. There is archaeological evidence for an attempt to remove the carving on face A in the late 16th century, and the slab snapped and fell again around 1676 during re-working of face A for the purpose of re-using it as a gravestone. The lower portion of the slab remained in situ. It lay at Hilton of Cadboll until the late 1860s when it was taken to Invergordon Castle and set upright in the grounds. In 1921 it was sent to the British Museum in London, but after a campaign to have it returned to Scotland it was sent to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh later that same year. The lower portion was retrieved by excavation in 2001 and is displayed in the Seaboard Centre in Balintore, and more than 3000 fragments of the carving removed in the 16th and 17th centuries are in NMS in Edinburgh.
Present condition: the intact carving is in good condition, but most of face A and a small part of the carving of face B is missing.
One of the finest Pictish cross-slabs, this rectangular stone is carved in relief on both broad faces. The narrow faces are plain but there are traces of slight protuberances on each, which have been chipped away. Only the lower part of the original carving of face A survives, bordered by a roll moulding within which there is the two-stepped base of a cross, also outlined by a roll moulding. The base contains diagonal key pattern and triple spirals, and it is flanked by elongated and entwined animals, with traces of figural panels above. The upper part of this face has been re-worked as the memorial of Alexander Duff and his three wives 1676. The decorative scheme of face B is almost intact within a plain flatband moulding. A frame of vine scroll inhabited by birds and quadrupeds is completed at the top of the slab by an elongated and ornately decorated double disc and Z-rod symbol. Within the frame are three almost square panels outlined by roll mouldings.
The top panel contains a crescent and V-rod symbol decorated with key pattern and triple spirals and two large discs filled with interlace. The middle panel contains a hunting scene with four horseriders, one of whom is a female riding side-saddle and wearing a penannular brooch, with a companion on his horse close beside her. In front of her there is a mirror and comb, and behind the following hound are two robed trumpeters. The lower two horsemen are armed with circular shields, swords and spears. In the foreground two hounds harry a fleeing deer. The lower panel has a central equal-armed cross within a circle, surrounded by interlinked triple spirals.
This cross-slab has been very fully described and discussed in James, Henderson, Foster and Jones 2008.
Date: late eighth century.
References: ECMS pt 3, 61-3; Fraser 2008, no 123; James et al 2008.
Early Medieval Carved Stones Project, A Ritchie 2017

Sources/Archives (23)



Grid reference Centred NH 8730 7686 (10m by 10m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH87NE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish FEARN

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