ARCHAEOLOGISTS say they have made an internationally significant discovery after uncovering nine carved stones which may be early representations of people. 

The unusual artefacts, though to be around 4,000 years old, were found during an excavation of an “enigmatic” structure uncovered during the development of an electrical substation at Finstown on Orkney.  

Each is sculpted to have a ‘neck’ shape, suggesting they may once have been intended to represent people


One of the figurines

However, it has been suggested they could also be stones shaped to hold down ropes which once secured the roof of the ancient structure.

The archaeologists from ORCA Archaeology who worked on the site uncovered the carved stones scattered around a hearth within the remains of a building which once contained three burial chambers known as ‘cists’, two hearths and a partial ring of holes packed with broken off upstanding stones.  

Three of the roughly-carved figures were incorporated within the hearths, and in the foundations of one of the standing stones.  

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The purpose of the building and how it was used by the inhabitants of the site, which dates to the late Stone Age or Early Bronze Age, is still unknown. Similar stones have been found on iron Age sites.  

Professor Colin Richards from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute said: “This is a significant discovery in Orkney and probably within North West Europe.  

“It is very rare to find representations of people in prehistoric Orkney and when found, they are usually individual or in very small groups.  

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“If they are figurines, to find nine figures within one structure is very exciting and together with the archaeology found at this site has the potential to add to our understanding of Orcadian society in prehistory.” 


A stone in situ

Dating work on the necked stones will now be carried out, as well as analysis of any marks or abrasions they may carry. 

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Pete Higgins ORCA Archaeology Project Manager continues, “This project gives us the opportunity to examine an important prehistoric site that would otherwise not have been excavated.  

“The exploratory trenches are now recorded and covered over, while the significant artefacts are now cleaned and stored for future study. Discussions will take place on the next steps for the development.”