ARCHAEOLOGISTS have launched a bid to find out the origins of a mysterious six-foot high Pictish stone carving uncovered in a field 37 years ago.

The slab, inscribed with a distinctive figure carrying an axe, has been dubbed the ‘Rhyine Man’ after the Aberdeenshire village in which it was found by a farmer ploughing his field.

But in the decades since its discovery, little more is known about the figure the stone depicts, or why it was created.

Now a team of archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen are leading a dig which they hope will yield answers to the mystery of Aberdeenshire’s ‘oldest man’.

Believed to date from the fifth or sixth century, the Rhynie Man carries an axe upon his shoulder, has a large pointed nose and wears a headdress.

The area where he was found is thought to have been a home to high-status Picts, and the carving could be tied into their long-vanished religion.

Previous work at the site uncovered pottery from the Mediterranean, glass from France and Anglo-Saxon metal work, suggesting that the area was a hub for international trade and high-value goods and could have been the fortified base of a royal family.

Dr Gordon Noble, Senior Lecturer in archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, said the excavations would focus on where the Rhynie Man was first found by local farmer Kevin Alston at Barfla, and around another Pictish standing stone called the Craw Stane, to the south of the village,.

He said: “Over the years many theories have been put forward about the Rhynie Man. However, we don’t have a huge amount of archaeology to back any of these up so we want to explore the area in which he was found in much greater detail to yield clues about how and why he was created, and what the carved imagery might mean.”

“From the evidence we have already, it looks like the Rhynie man stood somewhere near the entrance to the fort.

“We want to try and identify exactly where he was standing as this will give us a better idea how he fits into the high-status site and what his role may have been."

He added: “The Rhynie Man carries an axe of a form that has been linked to animal sacrifice and we hope to discover more evidence that might support the theory that he was created as part of ceremonies and rituals for high-status events, perhaps even those for early Pictish royal lineages.

“This may also help us to better understand the imagery used and why the Rhynie Man is depicted in this way. Standing at more than six-feet high the stone must have been an impressive sight to anyone coming to Rhynie some 1500 years ago.”

Excavations are currently taking place and on Saturday August 22 and August 29 the archaeology team will take part in public open days showcasing previous finds at Rhynie and some of their initial thoughts on the current dig.