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The Ballachulish Goddess

The mysterious Ballachulish Goddess is a 5ft figure of a girl, carved from a single piece of alder, with quartz pebbles for eyes. She was found during building work in November 1880, face down under 6ft of peat in a spot called the Ballachulish Moss on the north shores of Loch Leven. The figure has been radiocarbon-dated to around 600 BC, making her over 2,500 years old, and belonging to the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age.

Though similar figures have been found elsewhere in the UK and Europe, she is the only one of her kind here and is the oldest human figure found in Scotland. Often these are found in sacred places and are thought to represent supernatural beings or deities. In Ballachulish, the figure would have overlooked the dangerous straits linking Loch Leven to Loch Linnhe. Perhaps the Ballachulish figure represented the goddess of the straits, to whom prehistoric travellers would need to make an offering if they wanted to be sure of a safe crossing?

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The original goddess, pictured here, is currently on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but you can see a replica here in the museum.

Today, the Ballachulish Goddess looks very different from when she was found. The peat had preserved the wood, but unfortunately once she was removed from the ground she began to deteriorate. Archaeologists at the time wanted to keep her wet but did not have a container big enough to hold her and had no scientific techniques for preserving waterlogged wood, so the wood was allowed to dry out. As it did, it warped and cracked into the eerie, elongated figure on display today, and pieces broke off during transportation to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, as it was known then.

Our replica represents what the goddess may have looked like when she was first carved.

Intrigued? Find out more by listening to our Highland Objects podcast, or reading our blog!

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