The Ballachulish Goddess
The mysterious Ballachulish Goddess is a roughly life-sized figure of a girl, carved from a single piece of alder, with pebbles for eyes. She was found during building work in November 1880, under deep peat, around 120 metres from the shore of Loch Leven. The figure has been radiocarbon-dated to around 600 BC, making her over 2,500 years old, and gives evidence of a settlement in the area as far back as the Bronze Age.
Although the figure is unique in Scotland, other wooden figures dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages are known from Britain, Ireland and Europe. Often these are found in special places – beside a spring, or where a path crosses the wetland – and they are thought to represent supernatural beings. Ballachulish is a special place too: the figure would have overlooked the dangerous straits linking Loch Leven to Loch Linnhe and beyond to the sea. 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?
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. There were no scientific techniques to preserve waterlogged wood in the 1880s, and although people wanted to keep the figure wet, they could not find a container large enough, so she was allowed to dry out. As the wood dried, it warped and cracked, and a large piece broke off. In addition, her legs were broken during transportation to the (then-named) National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Our replica represents what the goddess may have looked like when she was first carved.