Tarbat Discovery Centre
Tarbat Discovery Centre is a Museum situated in an old church in the beautiful coastal village of Portmahomack, 42 miles North East of Inverness. Having been abandoned in 1946 the dilapidated building was saved from ruin in 1980, when it was purchased by the newly formed Tarbat Old Parish Church Preservation Trust.
From an aerial photograph taken in 1984 a curious ‘semi-circular crop mark’ was spotted in a field south west of the church. A small excavation of the ditch, carried out in 1991, produced material of a date, which presented the possibility of an earlier Pictish settlement on the site. At the same time, whilst clearing the inside of the church, some small fragments of Pictish sculpture were uncovered.
In 1993 the Trust invited Professor Martin Carver of York University to visit the site. Professor Carver was so intrigued that he returned with a team the following year to carry out a geophysical survey. The importance of the archaeology in determining the future of the building was profound and since 1996 major excavations have been ongoing at the site every summer. We now know the site to be the only Pictish monastic settlement found in Scotland to date.
The settlement consists of dedicated workshops for glass-making, metal-working, vellum production and woodworking. There are also farming areas, a millpond and a surfaced road all of which date between the 6th and 11th century AD. There have been numerous beautiful pieces of sculpture unearthed both inside and outside the church and these are now on display inside the Museum.
A total of six churches have existed within the building, the earliest of which dates back to 8th century and the Picts. Its numerous alterations have been incurred by an historical time-line of social, political and religious change.
Opened in 1999, by H.R.H The Prince of Wales, the now beautifully, and sympathetically, restored building is a Museum dedicated to displaying and preserving the heritage of the Tarbat peninsula.
Museum, Sacred space
Open 7 days
May to October 10am-5pm
Last entry - 4.15pm at all times
Groups may visit outwith these hours by appointment
Closed from November to April annually
Over 18: £3.50
Under 12: Free
Group discount on application
You can find out how the archaeologists have slowly uncovered the ancient treasures at Tarbat.
The science behind the dig is revealed in an accessible, entertaining and informative way through the creation of an archaeological pit. This explains in detail how the various members of the team recovered the valuable artifacts from the site.
The treasury houses the Pictish Sculpture and many other finds, including the Viking Silver Horde. Here you can marvel at the sheer beauty of the medieval stonework and read in depth accounts of the many rare tems uncovered at the site.
The Crypt at the Tarbat Discovery Centre is a barrel-vaulted, ancient sacred space with appropriate solemnity.
You will find out how, in late medieval times, it was the site of an infamous local atrocity.
The Lairds Loft Theatre houses the main audio-visual programme. Sit back and take a journey through time, as we show you what life would have been like when Tarbat was a busy medieval settlement. The theatre also doubles as an 'out of hours' events room and may be used for temporary dispays or exhibitions.
The Activity Room has computers which make learning more about the centre's displays fun, helping both children and adults alike get the most from their visit. Extremely easy to use they also will give you information of more general historic interest.
The Coleman's Gallery is dedicated to the life and people of Tarbat in more recent times. Find out how the local community has developed over the ages, adapting to the tremendous change which has taken place in the rural communities of northern Scotland and how the arrival of modern industries has affected the the local population.
Archaeology, Social History
Key artists and exhibits
- Picts and Pictish history
- History of Tarbat
Tarbat Discovery Centre