A PARTNER has been found for a rare 4,500-year-old Neolithic figurine discovered at an archaeological dig site on a remote Scottish island.
The second carved figure was unearthed just 100 feet from the spot in Westray, Orkney, where the artefact dubbed the Orkney Venus was found last year.
The new figurine is headless and made of fired clay rather than sandstone. But archaeologists say it bears a striking resemblance to the original.
The Orkney Venus was the earliest carving of a human figure found in Scotland.
It is believed both date back to 2,600 BC, when a Neolithic village existed at the dig site at the Links of Noltland in Westray.
Experts believe the figurines could have been depictions of deities, and the discovery of a second adds weight to the theory that they could have been kept in the home by our early ancestors.
The latest find was discovered outside the excavated ruins of a Neolithic house. Two pieces were discovered, which have been glued together by specialists.
Without its head it stands just one and a half inches tall.
A thumb-shaped indentation at the top of the body shows where the head had been attached.
Clay balls found near the spot could have been used as heads for the figurines, archaeologists believe.
The second figurine has more distinct carvings than the original, probably made by a sharp bone point.
A square carving on the front, possibly depicting a tunic, is divided into triangles. A centrally punched hole could represent the figure's belly button.
It was found by archaeologist Sean Rice, working for Historic Scotland's contractor EASE Archaeology .
Peter Yeoman, head of cultural resources at Historic Scotland, said: "It's difficult to speculate on the precise function or meaning of these figurines.
"They could even be children's toys."
However, he said similar findings in other European countries are generally recognised as images of deities, including some "well-endowed" female figurines that were clearly fertility objects.
"This being the case, the figurines start to allow us to consider the spiritual life of the Nortland families more than 4,000 years ago, possibly with the earliest evidence we have of worship being channelled through physical representations of spirits or gods," he said.
Until now, he said, it had only been known that our early ancestors in Scotland had worshipped deities at major monuments.
"This suggests perhaps they did not just represent their belief system on the grand scale, but also they had them in the home," he said.
Today the exposed spot has been damaged by wind erosion, putting its archaeological heritage at risk of being destroyed.An unusual building with cattle skulls set into its foundations has also been discovered at the site.
Culture minister Fiona Hyslop said: "It is excellent news that a second figurine has been found at the Links of Noltland dig, giving our team of archaeologists more information in piecing together what we can know about the lives of our ancient ancestors on Westray.
"Although these figures are tiny, their significance is huge and it's exciting to speculate whether there may be more, waiting to be discovered."
The first figurine has been shortlisted for best discovery in the British Archaeology Awards tonight and since it was found tourists have flocked to Westray from as far as Australia.
It is on display at the Westray Heritage Centre. Historic Scotland hopes its new partner will be able to join it on display after further studies have been carried out.