Remains have been discovered in a grave and could be those of early Pictish royalty, archaeologists believe.

A sandstone grave was uncovered by experts from the universities of Aberdeen and Chester during a dig in the village of Rhynie, Aberdeenshire.

Its careful construction suggests it was made for someone of high status, the Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project said.

Loading article content

The remains are the first to be found at the site.

Project leader Dr Gordon Noble, of the University of Aberdeen, said: "We found elements of the legs, pelvis and jaw bone which we recovered and are now analysing in the lab.

"It's extremely rare to find any human remains from this era in the north-east of Scotland as the soil in this part of the world is so acidic. One of the graves had been carefully made from split sandstone slabs to create a cist and the stone lining and collapsed capstones helped to preserve skeletal material.

"Unlike Anglo-Saxon areas to the south, the tradition in Scotland was largely for unfurnished burial so we didn't expect to find rich grave assemblages."

The area is known for its eight Pictish, carved standing stones, including the Craw Stane, and previous digs uncovered rare examples of Mediterranean imports and intricate metalwork.

"The nearby presence of the settlement near the Craw Stane strongly suggests these may have been burials of high-status individuals and that Rhynie was, like other political centres, a landscape of power rather than a series of individual sites," Dr Noble said.

Dr Meggen Gondek, of the University of Chester, said: "The imports, along with the presence of evidence for fine metalworking, suggest that Rhynie is a high-status site dating to the early stages of the development of the post-Roman kingdoms in northern Europe. The 5th-6th century dates for Rhynie places it in the centuries immediately following the withdrawal of the Roman army from Britain."