Step inside a 1,000-year-old Scottish fort! Incredible 3D reconstruction reveals what Scotland’s largest Pictish settlement would have looked like in its prime 

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  • Experts led by the University of Aberdeen bring the remains of Burghead Fortress back to digital life
  • The settlement on the banks of the Moray was a major power center for the Picts from around 500-1000 AD.
  • Recent excavations have revealed its remains from the development of the modern city of Burghead in the 19th century.
  • The fort had a 26 ft thick and 20 ft high rampart, with a large number of dwellings in its interior.
  • Yet this was not enough to prevent the burning of the fort in the 10th century – possibly by Viking raiders.

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An incredible 3D reconstruction has revealed what Scotland’s largest Pictish fort would have looked like in its prime, more than 1,000 years ago.

The digital images of Burghead Fort on the banks of the Moray were produced by experts led by the University of Aberdeen on the basis of archaeological excavations.

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It was long thought that the remains of the fort – occupied around 500–1000 AD – were lost during the development of modern Burghead in the 19th century.

However, the team’s efforts paint a different picture, with what they call ‘some of the most important Pictish items and building ever uncovered’.

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From the latter, experts have brought the fort back to digital life, revealing defensive stone ramparts – each 26′ thick and 20′ high – surrounding the inner dwellings.

Archaeologists said that there was also an extensive well inside these forts, the remains of which can still be seen today.

The team also included a chapel at the site’s entrance in their reconstruction, showing evidence of early Christian occupation found in previous excavations at the site.

According to archaeologists, Burghead Fort was about three times the size of any other enclosed site in early medieval Scotland.

The reconstruction was funded by Historic Environment Scotland as part of a wider video project that aimed to engage the public with the country’s Pictish past.

An incredible 3D reconstruction has revealed what Scotland’s largest Pictish fort would have looked like in its prime, more than 1,000 years ago. Pictured: Burghead Fort brought to life

It was long thought that the remains of the fort (left) – occupied from about 500–1000 AD – were lost during the development of the modern Burghead (right) in the 19th century.  However, the team's efforts paint a different picture, which they say is 'some of the most important Pictish items and the building is always open'

It was long thought that the remains of the fort (left) – occupied from about 500–1000 AD – were lost during the development of the modern Burghead (right) in the 19th century. However, the team’s efforts paint a different picture, which they say is ‘some of the most important Pictish items and the building is always open’

The digital images of Burghead Fort on the banks of the Moray were produced by experts led by the University of Aberdeen on the basis of archaeological excavations.

The digital images of Burghead Fort on the banks of the Moray were produced by experts led by the University of Aberdeen on the basis of archaeological excavations.

Devastated by fire after 500 years of continuous occupation: the story of Burghead Fort

After nearly 500 years of continuous occupation, Burghead Fort was destroyed by fire in the 10th century.

It is possible that the inferno was set up by the Vikings – who were known to have raided the Moray coast in this period.

After the fire, the site remained vacant until the 12th century.

When the modern port was built in the 19th century, the ramparts of the terrain and part of the defenses towards the sea were leveled.

During this work, 30 Pictish carved stones were excavated from the site of the fort, but only six carved bulls and some fragments of early Christian sculpture eventually survived.

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Historic Environment Scotland’s archeology manager, Kevin Grant, said: ‘Burghead Fort was one of the most important places in early medieval Scotland, and was built to be dramatic and grand.

He added, ‘These reconstructions help us experience this magnificent site in its heyday.

‘We are also pleased to support these excavations, which are changing our understanding of Pictish Scotland and saving important archaeological remains from being lost in waves.’

‘We learned from the scale of the houses and buildings that this was a densely populated and important Pictish site,’ said University of Aberdeen archaeologist Gordon Noble, who has been excavating Burghead for five years now.

‘We have found many objects that have helped us learn more about the daily lives of the inhabitants of Burghead between the 6th and 10th centuries AD.’

Among the finds, he explained, are examples of metal, weapons, and even hair and dress pins.

Professor Noble added, ‘With each new excavation we are finding out more about our ancestors who lived here.

‘The foundations of the giant ramparts have survived better than anyone could have imagined, despite centuries of deliberate destruction.

The layers in between, which are effectively where the Picts have thrown their trash, provide startling insight into the Picts’ lives.

‘It is amazing to bring our excavation work spanning more than five years together into these stunning reconstructions, which provide an amazing insight into how Burghead may have looked.’

With their excavations, experts have brought the fort back to digital life, revealing defensive ramparts - each 26' thick and 20' high - around the inner dwellings.  Archaeologists said that a well was also contained inside these forts, the remains of which can still be seen today.

With their excavations, experts have brought the fort back to digital life, revealing defensive ramparts – each 26′ thick and 20′ high – around the inner dwellings. Archaeologists said that a well was also contained inside these forts, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Kevin Grant of Historic Environment Scotland said, 'Burghead Fort was one of the most important places in early medieval Scotland, and was built to be dramatic and grand.  Pictured: Remains of the ramparts of the lower fort, as seen today

Kevin Grant of Historic Environment Scotland said, ‘Burghead Fort was one of the most important places in early medieval Scotland, and was built to be dramatic and grand. Pictured: Remains of the ramparts of the lower fort, as seen today

The team also included a chapel (pictured) at the site's entrance in their reconstruction, indicating evidence of early Christian occupation found in previous excavations at the site.

The team also included a chapel (pictured) at the site’s entrance in their reconstruction, indicating evidence of early Christian occupation found in previous excavations at the site.

According to archaeologists, Burghead Fort was about three times the size of any other enclosed site in early medieval Scotland.  Image: A plan of the remains of the fort, as drawn up in 1793 by William Roy, a Major General of the Royal Society

According to archaeologists, Burghead Fort was about three times the size of any other enclosed site in early medieval Scotland. Image: A plan of the remains of the fort, as drawn up in 1793 by a Major General William Roy…

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