The Picts were descendants of Iron Age tribes who occupied the lands north of the Forth and Clyde estuaries in the first millennium AD. We know very little about them, but lasting reminders of their existence are the more than 200 carved stones scattered across the country. Each one displays a rich variety of carving.
We do not know why the Picts carved and erected these stones. They may have been intended as memorials to great warriors, as boundary markers between neighbouring tribes or to represent marriage alliances. What is certain is that they are works of art executed by skilled craftspeople.
The earliest stones, probably dating to around AD 600, have a variety of enigmatic symbols cut directly into the surface of the stone. These stones are concentrated in north-east Scotland, around the Moray Firth. The later stones date from after AD 700. They are symbol-bearing cross slabs, on which the Christian cross dominates the traditional symbols.
The Knocknagael Boar Stone, a large slate boulder, falls into the earlier category. It is dominated by a splendid carving of a wild boar. Its shoulders and haunches are emphasised by spirals, and the ridge of its back has spiky bristles, as if raised for a fight. Other less distinctive carvings on the stone include a mirror case, and a disc and rectangle.
The stone formerly stood in a field at Knocknagael Farm, on the southern outskirts of Inverness (grid reference NH 656 413). In 1991 it was moved to its present location, in the Highland Council’s headquarters, for its better preservation.