Handprints of Pictish smith found on excavated anvil

Imprints dating back 1500 years discovered by archaeologists on Rousay.

Anvil: Handprint clearly visible at the lower right. <strong>Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust </strong>
Anvil: Handprint clearly visible at the lower right. Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust

Archaeologists have discovered the hand and knee prints of a Pictish metal smith while excavating a settlement in Orkney.

Imprints of the smith’s hands and knees, believed to be around 1500 years old, were found on an anvil discovered in his workshop on the island of Rousay.

The building is part of a substantial Iron Age settlement at the Knowe of Swandro which is gradually being destroyed by the sea.

It is being examined as part of an excavation project directed by Dr Julie Bond and Dr Stephen Dockrill, both of the University of Bradford.


Dr Dockrill said: “Work by archaeometallurgist Dr Gerry McDonnell, including analysis of crucible fragments and the floor deposits, has demonstrated that a copper smith worked in the building.

“The analysis of the floor enables us to say with confidence where the smith worked, next to a hearth and two stone anvils.

“The biggest surprise came when we lifted the larger stone anvil and cleaned it; we could see carbon imprints of the smith’s knees and hands.”

The small cellular building, dating to a period between the 6th to 9th century AD, was semi-subterranean.


It was entered via steps and a curved corridor, which would have minimised the amount of light entering the smithy, allowing the smith to assess the temperature of the hot metal based on its colour.

The room was dominated by the smithing hearth, with a set upright stone on the doorward side protecting the hearth fire from drafts.

More information on the anvil and other finds is available at the Swandro dig blog.

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