A Pictish ‘serpent’ incised slab from Jarlshof, Shetland
Norse, Vikings, hybrid Pictish symbols, architectural sculpture, incised slabs, symbol stones, Picts
Jarlshof, Shetland Islands, Scotland
Early Medieval, Pictish, Viking
The identification and dating of a supposed Norse grave slab of 10th-/11th-century date from Jarlshof, Shetland, consisting of two decorated fragments picked up on the beach beside this multi-period settlement site in the 1930s, are rejected by the authors of this paper in favour of a Pictish attribution, a late 6th- or early 7th-century date, and a probable architectural function. On the basis of a detailed examination of the two fragments of the so-called 'Jarlshof Serpent' (front and back), alternative reconstructions of the incised motifs are considered, leading to the conclusion that they probably represent a hybrid in the form of a horse-headed serpentine creature with the body conventionally decorated in the manner of the Pictish salmon symbol. The use of such hybrid symbols by the Picts, as well as the growing evidence for their erection of symbol stones in association with structures, are discussed. The paper ends with a brief consideration of the implications of this reattribution for the traditional 'minimalist' interpretation of the Pictish settlement-phase at Jarlshof.