Welcome to the Tarbat Discovery Programme Website
Discovery of the calf stone.
The Tarbat Discovery Programme is a collaborative project between the Tarbat Historic Trust, Highland Council and the University of York. It is carried out by Field Archaeology Specialists Ltd, York, for the Department of Archaeology, University of York and is jointly directed by Martin Carver, Justin Garner-Lahire, Annette Roe and Cecily Spall.
The project began in 1994 and the aims of the partnership were:
- To restore the church of St Colman at Portmahomack, acquired by Tarbat Historic Trust for £1 in 1980.
- To research the Pictish, Norse and Medieval site in which the church stands and its context in the Moray Firth area.
- To mount an exhibition in the restored church which displays the discoveries made by the research programme.
Portmahomak from the air.
History of the Project
Gravediggers unearthed 13 fragments of Christian Pictish carved stone from the churchyard of St Colman's church and its neighbourhood between the 18th century and 1995. All these pieces are in the National Museum in Edinburgh. The best decoration on the stone closely resembles that on one of the most famous Pictish stones found at the neighbouring village of Hilton of Cadboll. The collection also includes Pictland's longest Latin inscription (TR13), which implies that the site might have been that of a monastery. The sculpture dates to the 8th to 9th century AD. A small hoard of coins and ring-silver dating to the 11th century was discovered in the churchyard in 1899.
In 1984, an aerial photograph taken by Barri Jones recorded a D-shaped enclosure ditch encircling the church in the manner of the vallum at Iona, raising more monastic expectations. In 1991 the ditch was sampled by Jill Harden, an archaeologist based in Glen Urquhart. In 1993, Jill Harden and the Tarbat Historic Trust invited the University of York to adopt the site as a research project, and detailed remote mapping and evaluation followed in 1994 and 1995. A souterrain, the foundations of some buildings and other features including hearths were located in the fields adjacent to the church.
At that time the site was predicted to conceal a sequence of occupation from the Pagan Pictish, Christian Pictish, Norse and Medieval periods, approximately from the 2nd to the 15th century AD, and declared to have a high research potential for the exploration of a Firthland community over a formative period of Scotland's history. Subsequently, the site has revealed itself as a Pictish monastery, the first identified and excavated in Pictland. The focus of settlement takes place during the 6th to 10th centuries.
Last updated 27 March, 2006.