Pictish Fighters: Tattoos, Valor, and Victory against Romans and Vikings

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4 min readAug 25, 2023

The Picts are one of the most mysterious peoples in history. Scientists have determined the origins of the warriors who stood against the Romans and Vikings.

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The Picts inhabited the lands of present-day Scotland, in ancient times known as Caledonia, from approximately the 1st to the 10th century AD. They also settled on islands in the region, such as the Orkneys. Due to their tattoos, they were called the “painted people.” They spoke Pictish, a language derived from Celtic languages. They were described as short, bearded men of sturdy build. In the south, they bordered with the Britons, with whom they partially intermixed.

Historians have long been intrigued by the origins of the Picts. Until recently, their origins were attributed to distant sources. Among the most likely regions mentioned were the northern coast of the Aegean Sea and Eastern Europe. However, it is now known that this is not true.

Where did the come from?

An international team of scientists examined eight human skeletons buried in two Pictish cemeteries at Lundin Links and Balintore. The authors of an article published in the scientific journal “PLOS Genetics” extracted genomes from the remains to determine the extent to which the Picts were related to other cultural groups in Great Britain.

“Lundin Links is one of the few excavated and well-dated cemeteries from the (Pictish) early Middle Ages in Scotland,” emphasizes co-author of the study Linus Girdland Flink, an archaeogeneticist from the University of Aberdeen. The cemetery dates back to the period 450–650 AD and contains the remains of several dozen individuals.

The sandy soils in Lundin Links facilitate long-term preservation because they are less acidic than the soil in other areas of Scotland. This knowledge suggested to scientists that DNA could also be preserved. They were right.

The sequenced DNA was compared with thousands of samples of ancient and contemporary genomes. The study found Picts originated from local British populations pre-dating European arrival. Genetically, they closely resembled modern Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish.