Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Bettina Arnold

Committee Members

Patricia Richards, Jason Sherman


Gender, Iconography, Inalienable Objects, Picts, Power, Scotland


The interpretation of prehistoric iconography is complicated by the tendency to project

contemporary male/female gender dichotomies into the past. Pictish monumental stone sculpture

in Scotland has been studied over the last 100 years. Traditionally, mirror and comb symbols

found on some stones produced in Scotland between AD 400 and AD 900 have been interpreted

as being associated exclusively with women and/or the female gender. This thesis re-examines

this assumption in light of more recent work to offer a new interpretation of Pictish mirror and

comb symbols and to suggest a larger context for their possible meaning. Utilizing the Canmore

database, 272 Pictish monumental sculpture were contextually compared with each other in light

of archaeological and historical data. Mirrors and combs appear together or the mirror and comb

individually appear on 66 (24.3%) stones. Of these, only eight (2.9%) sculptures are depicted

with human figures. The results of this analysis suggest that the mirror and comb symbols were

not associated exclusively with women but rather represent actual objects imbued with special

meaning as well as symbols of particular lineages and their association with specific sociopolitical

roles in Pictish society.