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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials


by Richard Harris


From the middle of March 2010. the Kingsteignton Idol will be on show at the Museum in Newton Abbot. The address of the Museum is:-

2a St Paul's Road
Newton Abbot TQ12 2HP

For opening times, please ring
01626 201121


During the mid nineteenth century various artifacts of historical interest were found in the clay workings around Kingsteignton. One of these was a wooden carving of a human figure found at the Zitherixon works of Watts Blake Bearne in 1867.


It measured some 13 inches long and was found lying under the stump of an old oak tree some 25 feet below the surface. Its proportions are not equal or balanced as it has a long neck and short legs and what seems to be a stubby beard. In 1875 William Pengelley described it as a naked male figure carved in oak. He compared it with other figures found in other parts of Britain and concluded that it was a fertility doll locally made in the Bronze Age. Nothing like it had been found before in Devon.


The Kingsteignton Idol

The Kingsteignton Idol

©Richard Harris


A certain Mr Parfitt discussed its significance in the late 1870s and suggested that it was either Celtic or Romano British and that it was involved in fertility rites. He pictured it being carried through a Romano British village nearby.

The Kingsteignton figure is one of a small number of wooden figures whose origins span a period of some 2500 years that have been found in Britain and Ireland at such places as Dagenham (Essex), Ballachulish (Scotland), Roos Carr (Humberside), Westhay (Somerset), Lagore and Rallaghan (Ireland). The scarcity of such finds makes them all the more interesting to archaeologists. Recent radiocarbon dating has placed the origin of the Kingsteignton figure as between 426 and 350 BC.

Research on these figures by Prof. Bryony Coles has shown that some the figures found only have one eye and their sex is ambiguous, whereas the Kingsteignton figure is clearly male. She also noted that the Roos Carr figures are contemporary with Scandinavian rock art and that, unlike most of Europe, the Romans did not influence Scandinavian traditions. Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology, gave up one eye (the Dagenham figure also has one eye gouged out) so that he could look into the future and had the ability to change sex. In contrast Thor, who was associated with fertility was bearded, as is the Kingsteignton figure. The ambiguous carvings of Dagenham, Ralaghan, and Roos Carr figures are carved from Yew or Pine whilst the carvings from Kingsteignton and Lagore are from oak, a tree associated with Thor. Professor Coles concluded that the figures were possibly forerunners of the gods of Norse mythology and may reflect a form of pagan worship once widespread across northern Europe prior to the influence of Roman conquest.

The Kingsteignton figure is normally on view at the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter

but currently, this is closed for refurbishment.


This page is the copyright property of Richard Harris


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