Image courtesy of Glencoe Folk Museum

Location: Glencoe and Kinlochleven
archaeology, gaelic language and placenames

The Ballachulish Goddess

The Ballachulish Goddess is a female figure, carved from a single piece of alder. The original figure is at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, though you can see a replica in Glencoe Folk Museum. The goddess was found under 6ft of peat near the shores of Loch Leven during building work in November 1880 and has since been radiocarbon dated to around 600BC, making her over two and a half thousand years old and belonging to the late Bronze/early Iron Age. Though similar figures have been found elsewhere in the UK and Europe, she is the only one of her kind in the area and the oldest human figure found in Scotland.

Today, the Ballachulish Goddess looks very different from when she was found. The peat had preserved the figure, but once she was removed from the ground the wood dried out and became warped and cracked. The replica at Glencoe Folk Museum represents what she would have looked like when she was first carved.

There are a few different theories about what she might have represented. Some scholars of the time thought she was a pagan idol, while others suggested she may have come from the prow of a ship. Or maybe she is a depiction of the Cailleach Bheithir – the hag goddess of storms – or a goddess of fertility? The most likely theory is that she was a goddess of the water. Her position on the shores of the loch would have overlooked the narrowest point in the loch and the most obvious crossing point. Prehistoric travellers may have made offerings to her in order to be granted safe passage across the loch.

Contributed by Glencoe Folk Museum, Ballachulish

More information on visiting the area can be found here.