If the bead’s age is verified, it would mean that the monastery was contemporary with the lives of the very first missionaries who brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland.
St Columba founded the monastery in Iona in 563 AD to introduce the Picts to the Gospel on the West Coast. St Adamnan, Columba’s biographer and the abbot of Iona from 679 AD, has long been associated with Fortingall in place names and legend.
The discovery of a prehistoric flint scraper by Dr O’Grady’s team suggests that the origins of the site at Fortingall could be even older.
Christian missionaries may have built on a prehistoric monument centered around the famous Fortingall yew.
The tree, believed to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, is considered the oldest tree in Europe and may well have been a focus for pre-Christian worship.
There are records of it being venerated in seasonal festivals well into the medieval period.
Measured in 1769 with a circumference of 16 metres (52 feet), the Fortingall yew fell victim to souvenir hunters and local youths who lit Beltane fires at its base.
The tree has since been protected by a high wall.
“The yew alone makes Fortingall a site of national and international interest,” said O’Grady. “It gives us an unbroken link straight back through the Middle Ages to the people of the Iron Age.”