Shetland Amenity Trust

Val Turner

regional archaeologist

Shetland Amenity Trust, Garthspool, Lerwick

Shetland ZE1 ONY, UK

Old Scatness


An innovative collaboration between Shetland Amenity Trust and Bradford University is providing a radical new insight into the past of Britain''s most northerly island group.
The project, which is managed by the Trust and funded from a variety of sources (See list at bottom of this page), consists of a survey of the sites and monuments of the southern tip of the Shetland mainland, and large-scale excavation and sampling of the settlement mound of Scatness.
The project''s aims are twofold; to answer research questions about the nature of settlement and subsistence in Shetland, and to present this information to the public.

The Story So Far
The team of students and volunteers, Shetland Amenity Trust and Bradford University staff have now completed four seasons of excavation and survey inland around the massive settlement mound at Old Scatness.
The excavation has shown not only that there is an Iron Age broch standing at least 4m high, but that it is also surrounded by a remarkably preserved Iron Age Village. Some of the buildings in the village stand over one storey high.

In the first season we discovered evidence for over 3,000 years of occupation on the site. People living at Bronze Age Scatness created a fertile "plaggen" soil by adding seaweed and manure to the sandy soil and then cultivated it. The site was still in use in the 19th Century, as the crofting remains, at the top of the mound, demonstrated. The survival of organic remains (bone, plant, insect, etc.) is extremely good. One of the central aims of the project is to examine the changing subsistence patterns in this area which was one of the most fertile in Shetland.Analysis of the post-medieval deposits will be compared with documentary sources, which in turn, will be compared with results from the Iron Age deposits.

The 19th Century byre had a corn drying kiln built into it. On another part of the site we found a 16th Century corn drying kiln, and 17th Century midden (rubbish dumps). Some of the most interesting finds from the later part of the site included a set of lighthouse buttons and a Charles II coin.
When the small cellular Pictish building was removed this season we discovered that one of the stones from the large central hearth had a wild boar carving.Also, outside the house, in the surrounding turf bank, a pebble was found with a crescent and v-rod. Both of these are typical Pictish symbols. The building was used as a smithy - it may have been purpose built,being semi-subterranean, but it may have been reused by one of the Vikings.When the smithy was abandoned, the Norse settlers levelled it off with their own rubbish which included broken steatite bowls and loom weights. A silver coin of Athelstan dating between 930 - 970 AD was found among the debris.

The excavations have revealed the lower walls of a circular wheelhouse, which has rooms divided from one another by stone piers projecting into the central space - like the spokes of a wheel. Inside there was a fish amongst corroded metal - was this the last supper in the house, then abandoned? Perhaps the smell of rotting fish attracted in Shetland''s earliest known house mouse! (Until now, we had thought that mice were introduced to Shetland by the Vikings.) The Vikings then apparently used the derelict wheelhouse for either smoking or drying fish.

The wheelhouse was part of a Late Iron Age Village which was built around the broch.There is a large circular courtyard "building" filled with ashy midden full of organic material and several smaller buildings were built around its wall. One of these building contains several wall-cupboards, another has a scarcement which would have supported a wooden first floor. Some of these buildings had patches of bright yellow clay covering the surfaces of the inside walls - some form of interior decoration, perhaps intended to lighten the building.

The tops of two buildings are emerging inside the broch after it was abandoned.The earlier one was built against the broch wall, with a later wheelhouse in the centre. A passage through the back of one of the wheelhouse cells, shows that the earlier building was still partly in use.
There is a lintel over one of the passageways.

In 1998, the survey team claimed another major success - the discovery of a broch,never previously recorded,opposite the shop in the village of Toab.The area was clearly very densely fortified in the Iron Age - this is the fourth broch in the immediate area and there are also three blockhouse forts from much the same period.The team are mapping all the remains in the area in order to examine how the brochs and other sites inter-related.

The Old Scatness Broch/Jarlshof Environs Project is supported by the British Academy, the European Regional Development Fund (Highland and Islands Partnership Programme), Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Islands Council, the University of Bradford, DITT, Farquhar_and_Jamieson and Commercial Services.


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