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Third figurine found in Westray excavation

28 August 2012

A third hand carved figurine has been unearthed during ongoing excavations at Links of Noltland on the island of Westray, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop announced today.

Ms Hyslop, who was in Kirkwall with the rest of the Scottish Cabinet, was able to see all three figurines together for the first time ahead of all of them going on display at the Westray Heritage Centre.

Ms Hyslop said:

“The Orkney islands are known internationally for its historic landscape and the incredible preservation of its Neolithic monuments and standing stones. There was understandable excitement when the first figurine, believed to be the earliest artistic representation of the human form ever found in the UK, was found in 2009. To now be able to say that two more examples have been uncovered is unprecedented.

“The level of artistry, workmanship and skill demonstrated by these and the other finds at Links of Noltland clearly shows that our ancestors of 5000 years ago were a cultured and intelligent community. It also allows us to speculate about what motivated and inspired them – were these used in ritual, what significance did they have and how common were they?

“In 2009 an exhibition showing the first figurine, known as the Westray Wifey or Orkney Venus, toured around Scotland and was seen by more than 100,000 people before it returned to the Westray Heritage Centre where it has helped to increase visitor figures. I am delighted to be able to announce that all three will be returning to the Heritage Centre to go on display together.”

Since starting rescue excavations in 2007 to combat irreplaceable archaeological remains being lost to erosion, an extensive Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement and associated field systems has been found.  The range of artefacts and style of buildings define Links of Noltland as Westray’s ‘Skara Brae’.

Excavations will resume in September and visitors are welcome to the site.

The site has attracted interest from archaeologists since the 19th century when renowned antiquarian George Petrie first investigated the site.

Councillor Janice Annal, chair of Orkney Islands Council's Education, Leisure and Housing Committee, said:

“It's wonderful that a third figurine has been uncovered by the team working at the Links of Noltland - and that discoveries of this importance continue to be made at Orkney's world famous archaeological sites.

“For me, it is a rare privilege to have the opportunity to see and touch these tiny representations of the human form, because they provide such tangible link with some of our earliest ancestors.

“It is good to know that the Westray Wifey has not been alone for all the years since she was first created and I  am delighted that she and her companions will now be on display in Westray.”

Following the announcement that the discovery of the first figurine had been shortlisted for the 2010 British Archaeology Awards, local businesses reported that the interest and publicity generated by the dig had seen some increase profits by up to 45 per cent.

That was supported by the visitor figures from the Westray Heritage Centre rising from around 2000 visitors in 2009 to over 4000 in 2010.

Alasdair McVicar, Chair of the Westray Heritage Trust said:

“The discovery of these figurines has really put Westray and the Heritage Centre on the map. The figurines and the accompanying excellently preserved Neolithic bone and stone tools and cattle skulls on display in the Heritage Centre give an impressive insight into the ancestral past of the island.

“Westray Heritage Trust greatly appreciates the excellent working relationship with Historic Scotland built up over the last number of years.”

Shortbread biscuits in the shape of the original figurine are made by the Westray Bakery and in constant demand at the heritage centre where they are on sale, and many visitors have followed the dig’s progress via the www.westrayheritage.co.uk website that posts updates on finds and events.

From September 3rd visitors to Links of Noltland will be able to meet the team and see the ongoing dig between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday.

Notes for editors

  1. You can see the figurines and other exhibits at the Westray Heritage Centre, Pierowall ,Westray, KW17 2BZ or contact 01857 677414: enquiries@westrayheritage.co.uk

  2. Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. For more information visit www.historic-scotland.gov.uk  

  3. Register for media release email alerts from www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/news. If you wish to unsubscribe at any time, please email hs.website@scotland.gsi.gov.uk   

  4. The Year of Creative Scotland began on January 1, 2012 and will spotlight and celebrate Scotland’s cultural and creative strengths on a world stage. Through a dynamic and exciting year-long programme of activity celebrating our world-class events, festivals, culture and heritage, the year puts Scotland’s culture and creativity in the international spotlight with a focus on cultural tourism and developing the events industry and creative sector in Scotland. More information about the programme can be found at: www.visitscotland.com/creative

  5. The Year of Creative Scotland is a Scottish Government initiative led in partnership by EventScotland, VisitScotland, Creative Scotland and VOCAL. More information and resources to help businesses engage with Year of Creative Scotland are available at  www.visitscotland.org/yearofcreativescotland-toolkit

For further information


Lesley Brown
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8603 or 07920 768 096
lesley.brown@scotland.gsi.gov.uk