A Fragmented Masterpiece: Recovering the Biography of the Hilton of Cadboll Pictish Cross-Slab


Heather F James (ed)
Isabel Henderson (ed)
Sally M Foster (ed)
Siân Jones (ed)


Pictish, Art history, Cross-slab, Archaeology, Fragments, Heritage, Insular art, Sculpture, Biography, Ethnography, Replicas, Excavation, Class, Identity, Nation, Social values

Hilton of Cadboll, Highlands, Scotland, UK


Early Middle Ages; Late eighth century; Twelfth century; Seventeenth century; Nineteenth century; Twentieth century; Twenty-first century


Around AD 800, a superbly carved cross-slab was erected at Hilton of Cadboll in north-east Scotland. The major part of the stone now stands in the National Museum of Scotland, and the story of what happened to it in the intervening centuries is told here. Excavations at Hilton of Cadboll in 1998 and 2001 revealed not only fragments of the missing original carved face but also the lower portion of the stone still set into the ground, and this has allowed the art history of this magnificent Pictish monument to be assessed more fully than ever before.


The ‘Pictish’ cross-slab from Hilton of Cadboll is one of the glories of the early Middle Ages. This comprehensive – art historical, theological, archaeological, historical and scientific – monumental biography locates its birth in the ecclesiastical structures and religious beliefs of late 8th-century Scotland.

– John Moreland, Medieval Archaeology (volume 54)

There could perhaps also have been more extensive coverage of the context in terms of the Early Historic political geography […] but none of this detracts from the epic nature of the volume and its important contribution to our understanding of this most complex and important fragmented masterpiece.

– Alice Blackwell, Scottish Archaeological Journal (volume 31.2)


Canmore ID 15261


  • Front matter
    Heather F James, Isabel Henderson, Sally M Foster, Siân Jones
  • 1 | The project
    David V Clarke, Sally M Foster
  • 2 | ‘the work of a genuine artist’
    a review of the art-historical literature on the slab from Hilton of Cadboll up to 1998
    Isabel Henderson
  • 3 | The archaeological investigations
    Heather F James
  • 4 | The cataloguing of the Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab
    Isabel Henderson, Ian G Scott
  • 5 | The art-historical context of the Hilton of Cadboll cross-slab
    Isabel Henderson
  • 6 | Recovering the biography of the Hilton of Cadboll Pictish cross-slab
    Sally M Foster, Siân Jones
  • 7 | Artefact and environmental studies
    Amanda Brend, Meggen Gondek, Allan Hall, Isabel Henderson, Heather F James, Stuart Jeffrey, Douglas Morton, Ian G Scott, Suzanne Miller, Peter Hill, George Thomson, Jo McKenzie, David Sanderson, Iona Murray, Jennifer Miller, Susan Ramsay, Catherine Smith, Julie Roberts, Richard Fawcett, Maria Kostoglou, Derek Hall, Adrian Cox, Eland Stuart, Robin Murdoch, Siân Jones
  • 8 | Conclusions
    Heather F James
  • Appendix 1 | Hilton of Cadboll
    assessment and project design 1998
    Martin Carver
  • Appendix 2 | An incised horse’s head at Jessie Port, Hilton of Cadboll, Ross and Cromarty
    Isabel Henderson, George Thomson
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index


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Author Biographies

Heather F James

Dr Heather James runs Calluna Archaeology. She was a manager at Northlight Heritage specialising in Community Archaeology and has been working in Scotland since 1984. She has experience in archaeological fieldwork throughout the UK, and in Italy, France, Jordan and Peru.

Isabel Henderson

Dr Isabel Henderson is a former Fellow and Director of Studies of History of Art at Newnham College, Cambridge. She has published widely on Pictish art, notably on the St Andrews Sarcophagus and the Hilton of Cadboll, Cross-slab.

Sally M Foster

Dr Sally M Foster is a Scottish archaeologist and senior lecturer at the University of Stirling. She specialises in the archaeology of Scotland, particularly the Picts and their neighbours in the early medieval period.

Siân Jones

Professor Siân Jones is a Professor of Heritage in History at the University of Stirling. She is an interdisciplinary scholar with expertise in cultural heritage, as well as on the role of the past in the production of power, identity, and sense of place.



November 5, 2021


Details about this monograph

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