Archaeologists working on the island of Rousay in Orkney have uncovered the handprint of a Pictish metalsmith on an Iron Age stone anvil. The handprint is believed to more than 1,000 years old and it was discovered in what archaeologists believe was the metalsmith’s workshop.
When archaeologists analysed crucible fragments and floor deposits in the building they realised it was a coppersmith’s workshop. There were traces of a hearth and two stone anvils. When researchers lifted the larger anvil and cleaned it they saw the carbon imprints of the smith’s knees and hands were still preserved on it.
The building itself is dated to the 6th-9th century, and the metalsmith would probably work in darkness, with light coming only from the hearth. After walking down steps and a curving passageway, there was a door leading into the workshop and sealing it behind the metalsmith once he was inside. Traces of the door, such as the pivot stone, door jamb and bar hole, were found intact, along with a stone which protected the hearth from draughts.
Archaeologists believe the worksmith forged brass and other metals, and the workshop was lightproof so that he could assess the temperature of the hot metal based on its colour.
The workshop was Pictish, a people who are known to have produced beautiful metalwork and stone carvings. The Iron Age settlement, though, is gradually being destroyed by the sea, so archaeologists are racing against the tides.
Excavation works to uncover the site, known as the Knowe of Sandro, have been ongoing since 2010 by the Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust.