Lunnasting stone

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The Lunnasting stone is a stone bearing an ogham inscription, found at Lunnasting, Shetland and donated to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in 1876.


Ogham inscription on the Lunnasting stone

It was found by Rev. J.C. Roger in a cottage, who stated that the stone had been unearthed from a "moss" (i.e. a peat bog) in April 1876, having been originally discovered five feet (1.5 m) below the surface.[1]

The stone is made of slate and is 44 inches (1.1 m) long, by about 13 inches (0.33 m) in breadth and 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick with the inscription on the flat surface. In addition to the ogham letters which are arranged down a centre line, there is a small cruciform mark near the top of the stone, which may be a runic letter or a Christian cross. It is unknown whether this mark and the ogham are contemporary, or whether the former was later added to a pre-existing standing stone.[1][2]

Inscription and date[edit]

The Pictish inscription has been read as:

ttocuhetts: ahehhttmnnn: hccvvevv: nehhton by Allen and Anderson (1903)[3]
ettecuhetts: ahehhttannn: hccvvevv: nehhtons by Forsyth (1996)[1]

The script probably contains the personal name "Nechton", and Diack (1925) took the view that the last two words mean “the vassal of Nehtonn“[4] but it is otherwise without certain interpretation. Forsyth suggests Ahehhttannn is also a personal name.[1]

Other recent attempts include:

"King Nechtan of the kin of Ahehhtmnnn"
"The widow of Kenneth made (these as) testimonials on her part".[5]

The word-dividing dots suggest Norse influence, but this could pre-date the Viking occupation of Shetland, and an eighth- or ninth-century origin is likely for the ogham work.[1]

Other theories[edit]

The difficulties of providing a clear interpretation of the script has led to a number of other suggestions.

Vincent (1896) suggests that the stone may have been erected by "Irish missionary monks not earlier than A.D. 580" and quotes an unnamed expert's transcription of the ogham as:

eattuicheatts maheadttannn hccffstff ncdtons.[6]

Lockwood (1975) writes that "the last word is clearly the commonly occurring name Nechton, but the rest, even allowing for the perhaps arbitrary doubling of consonants in Ogam, appears so exotic that philologists conclude that Pictish was a non-Indo-European language of unknown affinities".[7] This view was also taken of the ogham inscribed on the Orcadian Buckquoy spindle-whorl until its 1995 interpretation as Old Irish.[8]

A language of Basque origin has also been suggested as providing a solution:

etxekoez aiekoan nahigabe ba nengoen (English: "The one of the house found me without will in the pain.")[9]

although the original speculations in 1968 by Henri Guiter do not appear convincing and were not well received academically.[10] The eminent Vasconist Larry Trask says about Guiter's attempts that "like the majority of such dramatic announcements, this one has been universally rejected. Pictish specialists dismiss it out of hand, and vasconists have been no more impressed". The criticisms focus on random readings being assigned to Ogam letters, alleged complete decipherment of inscriptions too weathered to be read with certainty, the use of 20th century Basque rather than reconstructed Proto-Basque forms, disregarding syntax and highly fanciful translations.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "LTING/1" University College London, quoting Forsyth, K. (1996) "The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland: An Edited Corpus". Unpublished PhD. Harvard University. Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  2. ^ Goudie, Gilbert (11 December 1876) "On Two Monumental Stones with Ogham Inscriptions Recently Discovered in Shetland" (pdf) Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 12 pp. 20–32. Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  3. ^ "LTING/1" University College London, quoting Allen, J. R. and J. Anderson (1903) "The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland". Part III. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  4. ^ Diack, Francis (1924-25) “The Old-Celtic Inscribed and Sculptured Stone at AuquHollie, Kincardineshire, and Ogam in Scotland”. (pdf) Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 59 pp. 257–69. Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved 12 July 2009. Diack wrote in a footnote: “The spelling hccvvevv looks uncouth, but it is so only in the same way as foreigners speaking their own language are described as "jabbering" by those unfamiliar with it. The orthographical practice in late ogams in Scotland is usually to write all consonants double, whether historically double or not, except when beginning a word and except m and s. Aspiration is sometimes indicated by writing h before the aspirated consonant, not after it as in the later texts and to-day. We write the word here, therefore, in unaspirated form, cvev, which stands for older qvev or gev according to the orthography employed (usually in the inscriptions the labialised q is written merely q, not qv). The word qev, "vassal, servant," occurs so spelt in an unpublished ogam from northern Scotland, of date before A.D. 600. The modern Gaelic, descending from qev by regular phonetic law, is ce, "companion, spouse," the same semantic development as is seen in celi above, which gives to-day ceile, of the same meaning. It may be remarked in passing that this Old Gaelic inscription of Lunnasting was specially selected by Bhys to "challenge" the possibility of its being explained by "any Aryan language" (Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xxxii. p. 325).”
  5. ^ Schei (2006) p 104
  6. ^ Vincent, W.T. (1896) "In Search Of Gravestones Old And Curious" Part 2. London. Mitchell and Hughes. Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  7. ^ Lockwood, W.B. (1975) Languages of The British Isles, Past And Present. André Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-96666-8
  8. ^ Forsyth, Katherine (1995) "The ogham-inscribed spindle-whorl from Buckquoy: evidence for the Irish language in pre-Viking Orkney?", in The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 125 pp. 677–96.
  9. ^ "Clan MacNaughton" Retrieved 12 July 2009.
  10. ^ "Scotland's Ogam Inscriptions". University of California, Riverside. Retrieved 12 July 2009. This paper quotes a 1969 radio talk by Douglas Gifford of the Department of Spanish of St. Andrew’s University, who said that Guiter had "twisted the evidence", but also suggested that the Basque connection was worth a further look.
  11. ^ Trask, L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2


  • Schei, Liv Kjørsvik (2006) The Shetland Isles. Grantown-on-Spey. Colin Baxter Photography. ISBN 978-1-84107-330-9

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