Painted pebbles

Painted pebbles

Painted pebbles are a class of Pictish artifact unique to northern Scotland in the first millennium AD.


They are small rounded beach pebbles made of quartzite, which have been painted with simple designs in a dye which is now dark brown in colour. The size varies from 18 mm by 22 mm to 65 mm by 51mm. It has not proven possible to analyse the dye itself from the stains that remain.

The motifs are carefully executed and the most common are dots and wavy lines. Other motifs are small circles, pentacles, crescents and triangles, showing strong relationships with the Pictish symbol stone motifs.Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1971 - 2. Vol. 104. Pps. 297 - 301.]


Over the last ninety years nineteen painted pebbles have been found in sites in the Northern Isles and in Caithness. Most have come from broch sites which have been shown to have had an extensive post-broch occupation. An ogham - inscribed spindle-whorl was associated with one find at Buckquoy in the Orkneys (see Buckquoy spindle whorl). Several have been associate with wheelhouses or their outbuildings. An example was found at a Pictish site at Buckquoy in Orkney as reported in 1976. It had the 'small ring' type decoration.Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1971-2. Vol. 108. P. 197.]

Cultural significance

Painted pebbles have been dated to the period 200 AD to the eighth century AD, the Pictish period. They may have been magically enhanced sling-stones, however local traditions suggest that they were 'charm-stones', often known as 'Cold-stones'. Such stones were used within living memory (1971) to cure sickness in animals and humans.Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1971-2. Vol. 104. Pps.297 - 301.]

In the "Life of St. Columba" it is recorded that he visited King Bridei in Pictland in around the year 565 AD and taking a white stone pebble from the River Ness he blessed it and any water it came into contact with would cure sick people. It floated in water and cured the king from a terminal illness. It remained as one of the great treasures of the king and cured many others.

The belief in charm-stones is well documented in medieval Iceland (Proc Soc Antiq Scot).

Examples of 'charm-stones' or 'cold-stones' are held at National Museum of Rural Life, Kittochside, near East Kilbride.

See also

*Touch pieces See the 'Lee Penny'


External links

* [ The Museum of Scottish Country Life]
* [ St Columba's charm stone]
* ['s_Guide_to_Local_History_Terminology A Researcher's Guide to Local History terminology]

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