The Pictish Beast (sometimes Pictish Dragon or Pictish Elephant) is an artistic representation of an animal, and is depicted on Pictish symbol stones. It is not easily identifiable with any real animal, but resembles a seahorse, especially when depicted upright. Suggestions have included a dolphin, a kelpie (or each uisge) and even the Loch Ness Monster.
Recent thinking is that it may be related to the design of dragonesque brooches, S-shaped pieces of jewelry from the mid-1st to 2nd century CE that depict double-headed animals with swirled snouts and distinctive ears. These have been found in southern Scotland and northern England. The strongest evidence for this is the presence on the Mortlach 2 stone of a symbol very similar to such a brooch, next to and in the same alignment as a Pictish Beast.
The Pictish Beast comprises roughly 2 in 5 of all Pictish animal depictions, and so was obviously of great importance.
It is thought that it was either an important figure in Pictish mythology, and/or a political symbol.
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- Jones, Duncan, A Wee Guide to The Picts, (Musselburgh, 2003)
- Cessford, Craig, The Heroic Age: A Journal of Medieval Northwestern Europe, issue 8 (2005) ISSN 1526-1857
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