Ancient Monuments

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Trowie Loch, burnt mound complex 225m WSW of Vadill Cottage

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2655 / 60°15'55"N

Longitude: -1.1478 / 1°8'52"W

OS Eastings: 447251

OS Northings: 1153780

OS Grid: HU472537

Mapcode National: GBR R1JL.ST2

Mapcode Global: XHF9K.G7NN

Entry Name: Trowie Loch, burnt mound complex 225m WSW of Vadill Cottage

Scheduled Date: 20 December 1974

Last Amended: 9 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3579

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a substantial burnt mound complex, visible as two partly turf-covered mounds separated by a tidal creek. One mound lies on the mainland and is relatively small, measuring about 7m SW-NE by 5m transversely and stands 0.7m high. The other lies on a small islet but is much larger, measuring about 11m N-S by 9m transversely and standing 2m high, with an irregular top surface. Small-scale investigations in the 1990s showed that archaeological remains survive between the visible mounds and that the complex measures at least 28m by 11m overall. The monument lies on the west shore of the Vadill of Garth, a tidal inlet about 60m wide that extends south from the East Voe of Skellister for about 0.8km. It lies at sea level and parts of the complex are submerged at high tide. The monument was first scheduled in 1974, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, measuring 40m NW-SE by 34m transversely (maximum), to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of a post-and-wire fence to allow for its maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Burnt mounds are formed of heaps of burnt and fire-cracked stone, occurring usually within a matrix of dark soil and perhaps charcoal or ash. The stones represent the waste product from the use of hot stones to heat water, probably for a variety of purposes. After several immersions, the stones would crack and break and were discarded to form burnt mounds. Burnt mounds are often accompanied by troughs that held the water and there is sometimes evidence for associated shelters and the hearths in which the stones were heated. Troughs are usually set in the ground and lined with wood, stone or clay. Burnt mounds typically lie close to a stream or other water source, as in this case.

A large part of this monument survives in excellent condition below a covering of turf, though tidal erosion is a significant threat, particularly to the area between the two mounds. A small part of the complex was excavated by archaeologists in 1991-3, with the investigation targeted on areas of erosion and avoiding the secure portions of the mounds. The work showed significant variations in the character of different parts of the complex and highlighted the presence of a range of interesting and significant features, including a hearth and adjacent clay-lined pit at the southern edge of the smaller mound. Large paving slabs and orthostats are part of a stone feature leading from the pit to the centre of the complex. Excavation here produced artefacts including pottery and worked quartzite. The work showed that the larger mound on the islet is composed of tips of peat ash and burnt stone. A peat deposit was located beneath the complex. The investigations indicate that this is a complex structure incorporating a range of features with potential evidence for a development sequence. This monument has excellent potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of burnt mounds, their function(s) and duration. It may contain further artefacts or ecofacts that can increase our understanding of the function of burnt mounds and how they were used. The peat and soil deposits below the mound may seal important environmental information that could increase our knowledge of the landscape and land-use before and during the mound's creation.

Contextual characteristics

There are around 1,900 recorded examples of burnt mounds in Scotland with notable concentrations in some areas, including Shetland. The greater number in Shetland may also reflect increased survival because of a lack of later development or agricultural improvement. Burnt mounds in the Northern and Western Isles and northern Scotland are often particularly large. They often show a classic crescentic shape and may have been reused on many occasions over a significant period. They may also have served different social and practical functions to smaller mounds.

In Scotland, excavated examples typically date to the middle Bronze Age, around 1500 BC, but the overall range of dates varies from the late Neolithic through to the early historic period (around 2400 BC to AD 900). A common interpretation of these monuments in Scotland is that they were used to boil water for cooking. However, researchers have also suggested that they could have been used as saunas or sweat-lodges (possibly medicinal as well as sanitary); as baths; or for textile production (dying and fulling), brewing or leather working. Burnt mounds are often found in relatively isolated locations in Scotland, but in Shetland they sometimes occur in association with settlement remains. This example, like some other Shetland burnt mounds, preserves evidence for a range of internal structures. It can be compared with a complex burnt mound on Bressay, which was excavated and then reconstructed and displayed close to the Bressay ferry terminal.

The interest of this burnt mound complex is enhanced because it lies within a landscape rich in prehistoric remains, including three probable brochs and another burnt mound that lies 1.1km to the northwest. This landscape has been investigated as part of the South Nesting Palaeolandscape Project, which aimed to provide a context for the known monuments in the area through field walking, geophysical survey and environmental assessment. The work revealed hundreds of individual archaeological sites in the vicinity and identified land with enhanced soils that formed part of an intensive infield agricultural system.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular prehistoric society and the construction and use of burnt mounds and their placing in the landscape. The good preservation of much of the monument, and the complex structures it contains, enhance this potential. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric domestic and ritual practice in Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU45SE 6. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN1009 (PrefRef 969).


Dockrill, S J, 1991 'South Nesting (Nesting Parish); archaeological landscape, burnt mound'. DES 1991, 74-5.

Dockrill, S J, 1993 'South Nesting Palaeolandscape Project'. DES 1993, 107.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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