Ancient Monuments

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Skellister, burnt mound 115m south west of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.274 / 60°16'26"N

Longitude: -1.1574 / 1°9'26"W

OS Eastings: 446710

OS Northings: 1154717

OS Grid: HU467547

Mapcode National: GBR R1HL.2BX

Mapcode Global: XHF9K.B1T4

Entry Name: Skellister, burnt mound 115m SW of

Scheduled Date: 20 December 1974

Last Amended: 9 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3584

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, visible as a turf covered U-shaped bank covering an area that measures 24m SW-NE by 14m transversely and standing about 1m high. A damp hollow is enclosed by the bank and another damp hollow containing a well lies SW of the bank. The burnt mound is likely to date to between 2000 and 1000 BC. The monument lies on low, undulating ground immediately NW of the road leading south from Skellister, at around 20m above sea level. The shore of the East Voe of Skellister lies 250m to the east. 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 35m ENE-WSW by 22m transversely, 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 post-and-wire fences and a roadside drainage ditch to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives as an upstanding, turf-covered mound in excellent condition. Its form survives to a marked degree and the monument seems largely undisturbed. The two distinct waterlogged areas offer excellent potential for the survival of organic remains. Burnt mounds are made from heaps of burnt and fire-cracked stone, occurring usually within a matrix of dark soil and perhaps charcoal or ash. Records indicate that black earth and burnt stones were visible here in 1968, when there may have been less vegetation. 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.

The monument has good potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of burnt mounds, their function(s) and duration. It may contain artefacts or ecofacts that can increase our understanding of the function of burnt mounds and how they were used. The mound may have accumulated directly on an old ground surface and 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.

The proximity of this example to several other prehistoric monuments is very notable. Other burnt mounds lie 390m to the NE and 650m to the SW and a prehistoric field system and house lie 450m to the SW. A standing stone lies 650m to the NW. The monument was clearly part of a wider occupied landscape in which broadly contemporary domestic and ritual activities took place.

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 the monument, the potential for organic remains to survive and its proximity to other prehistoric monuments 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 20. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN1118 (PrefRef 978).


Calder, C S T, 1965 'Cairns, neolithic houses and burnt mounds in Shetland', PSAS, 96, 80

Dockrill, S, J, 1991 'South Nesting Archaeological Landscape, burnt mound' in DES 1991, 74

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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