First there was the Orkney Venus – or the Westray Wife, as she’s known in Orkney.
And now we’ve got the Brodgar Boy – a small, Stone Age figurine found at the ongoing Ness of Brodgar excavations in Stenness.
What was hailed as Scotland’s earliest representation of a human was unearthed in Westray in the summer of 2009. Then, a year later, a second figurine turned up during the 2010 season of excavations at the Links of Noltland.
The Brodgar Boy was found in one of the later structures on the multi-phase Neolithic complex in the heart of Neolithic Orkney.
Work in the northern corner of the main trench had revealed two new structures – Structures Thirteen and Fourteen. It was in the rubble of Structure Fourteen that the Brodgar figure was discovered.
The figurine is only 30mm high and seems to have a head, body and two eyes.
Although nowhere near as finely produced as the Westray Wife, the Brodgar find does seem to be a representation of the human form – although admittedly fairly crude.
While the Westray Wife was carved from sandstone and is flat, the Brodgar figurine is round and made from clay.
A break mark on the bottom suggested it was once part of a larger clay object that, once broken off, may have then had a pair of “eyes” added to create a little figure.
But although the figurine had obviously been part of a larger object, the chances of finding its other “half” seemed slim.
But a week after the initial discovery, it was found – only a metre, or so, away from the original find spot.
And it was a perfect fit.
The form still looks anthromorphic but the use to which it may have been put is still a mystery. There is very little wear on it and its tapering, segmented form could represent a pendant, although those with vinous inclinations suggest that it looks like a wine bottle stopper!
Although there have now been three similar figurines found, in context, in Orkney, the Ness of Brodgar site director, Nick Card, is wary of attaching too much significance to the latest find.
“Given the nature of the site, it would be easy to suggest the Brodgar figurine represented something ceremonial, ritualistic or religious. But given the area of the site in which it was found – one of the last buildings constructed on the Ness – I don’t think it’s of any obvious significance and I don’t think it’s a reflection on the site as a whole.
“Maybe, if it had been found in Structure Ten, the massive ‘cathedral-like’ building, we’d be thinking differently, but it turned up in what would appear to be a not particularly significant deposit.
“In addition, it’s not a beautifully carved piece of craftsmanship. It’s probably been part of another object at one time, which, when it broke, the fragment was perhaps then reworked into this little figurine.”
The Westray Wife was found in midden filling the remains of a former Neolithic farmhouse.
Although it could have been accidently left behind or dropped, the lack of wear and tear seemed to indicate the object had not been handled regularly and therefore had a specific function. This led to the idea that the figurine was deposited deliberately, perhaps as some act of closure after the building’s main use was over.
In fact, after initial investigations of the object, it was suggested that Westray Wife was either made shortly before deposition, or created specifically for that purpose.
But Nick is doubtful that the Brodgar figurine had a similar role.
“It doesn’t appear to have been a closing deposit for the building in which it was found or what could be termed a votive offering, or anything along these lines,” he said. “Was it a toy? Something created on a whim and then lost? However the scarcity of this type of find may have given even such a crude figurative representation as this, significance beyond our understanding.
“But whether significant or not, it’s still a beautiful little find; an interesting little curio that, in amongst all the massive structures and monumental architecture on the Ness, gives us a more personal glimpse of the people who once frequented this area of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.”