Join 3,517 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


If it's not Pictish, it's crap!
April 2, 2010 12:25 PM   Subscribe

Information-age math finds code in ancient Scottish symbols. "The ancestors of modern Scottish people left behind mysterious, carved stones that new research has just determined contain the written language of the Picts, an Iron Age society that existed in Scotland from 300 to 843. The highly stylized rock engravings, found on what are known as the Pictish Stones, had once been thought to be rock art or tied to heraldry. The new study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, instead concludes that the engravings represent the long lost language of the Picts, a confederation of Celtic tribes that lived in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland."
posted by homunculus (24 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related post.
posted by homunculus at 12:32 PM on April 2, 2010


This is pretty excellent. If anyone needs me, I'll be gathered in a cave with several species of animals and grooving.
posted by hippybear at 12:32 PM on April 2, 2010 [19 favorites]


If anyone needs me, I'll be gathered in a cave with several species of animals and grooving.

They've got your picture up at the pet store man, I don't think they're gonna let you in again.
posted by The Whelk at 12:35 PM on April 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


Pictograms!
posted by MrVisible at 12:39 PM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's unsurprising the Scots took to writing early, as it's nearly impossible to understand them when they talk.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:55 PM on April 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


"Choose life. Choose a hut. Choose a bear. Choose a clan. Choose a fucking big stone..."
posted by cromagnon at 12:55 PM on April 2, 2010 [17 favorites]


posted by cromagnon "Choose life..."

"...and Wake Thee Up, before Ye Go-Go, Nay to Leave Thee Hanging on Like a Yo-Yo."
posted by mattdidthat at 12:58 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


... And be sure to drink your Ovaltine."

Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a ...
posted by filthy light thief at 1:02 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I just realized time travel could get really messy if advertisers ever thought to go back and embed messages into "mysterious" texts, knowing when the item would be translated. Just think of a movie reference being made in a dead language, translated just in time for the season's blockbuster opening.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:04 PM on April 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Although Lee and his team have not yet deciphered the Pictish language, some of the symbols provide intriguing clues. One symbol looks like a dog's head, for example, while others look like horses, trumpets, mirrors, combs, stags, weapons and crosses.

I wonder what someone might say about a fragment of Latin-derived alphabet. "This one looks like a cup or a bowl, and here it is on it's side. Is that one a tree or an antenna? Or a tool of some sort?"
posted by filthy light thief at 1:08 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by filthy light thief I just realized time travel could get really messy

Time machine idea: travel to Scotland, ca. 300-843, carve rocks with new catchphrase, "Yabba Dabba Doo"
posted by mattdidthat at 1:10 PM on April 2, 2010


I thought Conan destroyed all of those.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2010


I find it unconvincing; more importantly, so does Mark Liberman.
posted by languagehat at 1:18 PM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's unsurprising the Scots took to writing early, as it's nearly impossible to understand them when they talk.

The Picts are not Scots. The Scots came from Ireland and overran the Picts.
posted by rodgerd at 1:19 PM on April 2, 2010


No no no, you guys are doing it wrong.

Go back in time, make comments like this:

Just traded some fur to the Mayans. Their sky-ships are really impressive. Will have to build some monuments to help them navigate back and forth.



(Heads would explode at reading this.)
posted by oddman at 1:25 PM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe it was just a coupla guys playing Pictionary...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:35 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's always been known that the Picts weren't illiterate, the problem has been with surviving texts. Not much survived beyond the king list, though enough has been derived from that and from placename evidence to show they spoke a Brythonic language. It's also been known for a while now that they made elaborate gospel books along the same lines as the Book of Kells - the excavations at Portmahomack (an early Pictish monastery) turned up the remains of a parchment workshop. You can see on some of the stones carvings of monks carrying book satchels and the great cross slabs show parallels to other insular manuscript art.

They wrote in both Latin and an early form of Gaelic (which turns up in the Oghams deciphered by Katherine Forsyth). The problem has been that with the replacement of Pictish by those languages, and with probably the last of the very early gospel books disappearing in the iconoclasm of The Reformation, that their manuscripts were wiped out and we were left mostly with the stones and placenames - but with no key for deciphering the symbols on the stones. So you can imagine I looked at the paper with some excitement, but I came away unable to make head nor tail of it. I simply can't tell whether this is highly sophisticated bollocks or not.

I'd really appreciate it if one of the more mathematically inclined mefites could explain how this is supposed to work and whether there has been general acceptance of these kind of findings. Has this sort of thing been proved to hold up in other cases?

[on preview crossposted with Languagehat]
posted by Flitcraft at 1:36 PM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I look forward to trying the ancient scottish deep frying recipes.
posted by srboisvert at 1:37 PM on April 2, 2010


The Scots coming from Ireland seems to be a later myth. Archaeology shows a shared culture growing up on both sides of the Irish Sea. It's also not the case that they overran the Picts, it's a lot more complicated than that - Dalriada (the kingdom of the Scots) seems possibly to have been absorbed into Pictland and then after the collapse of the main Pictish royal dynasty in battle against the Vikings, we get a Gaelic-speaking dynasty of Pictish kings (The McAlpins) but recent scholarship has shown they still think of themselves as Picts and of the country as 'Pictavia' until about the mid 10th century, but you get an evolution of Gaelic identity, not a conquest. I'm summarising very complicated history after several gins, but if you want the latest on it, Alex Woolf's From Pictland to Alba is the book to read.
posted by Flitcraft at 1:51 PM on April 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm sure it'll turn out to be liner notes for a Boards of Canada album.
posted by scruss at 2:58 PM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I heard if you translate Roygbiv it means Any Colour You Like.
posted by ifandonlyif at 6:14 PM on April 2, 2010


...more mathematically inclined mefites could explain how this is supposed to work and whether there has been general acceptance of these kind of findings. Has this sort of thing been proved to hold up in other cases?

Mark Liberman has pretty much nuked this work at Language Log. And earlier.
posted by cogneuro at 7:31 PM on April 2, 2010


It's a shame Robert Howard plugged himself: he was absolutely mad about the picts and would have loved this news. I shall merely be intrigued by it.
posted by absalom at 12:11 AM on April 3, 2010


It's unsurprising the Scots took to writing early, as it's nearly impossible to understand them when they talk.

Awa' an' bile yer heid, ye wabbit mincer.
posted by falcon at 10:38 AM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


« Older Friday Flash Fun: Steambirds. Turn based aerial c...  |  On Good Friday, Filipino Catho... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments