Ancient Monuments

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Hamar,Norse settlement ENE of,Baltasound

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.7624 / 60°45'44"N

Longitude: -0.8159 / 0°48'57"W

OS Eastings: 464621

OS Northings: 1209400

OS Grid: HP646094

Mapcode National: GBR S0B9.8Q8

Mapcode Global: XHF75.TR88

Entry Name: Hamar,Norse settlement ENE of,Baltasound

Scheduled Date: 22 April 1996

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM6370

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: Viking settlement, Norse settlement

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a Viking period settlement, probably dating to the 9th or 10th Centuries AD. The remains take the form of the foundations of a bow-walled longhouse, several lesser buildings and enclosure walls. The site has been known locally for many years as Yakob Yahorasons, or Yahorabsons. (The spelling is uncertain, as the tradition is oral.)

The remains are on a S-facing slope, with views over Balta Sound and the island of Balta. The principal structure is a longhouse with bowed side walls. This house measures 23m by a maximum of 5m externally, and has been dated to the Viking period by analogy with examples elsewhere, notably in Faroe. A narrow trial trench was placed across it during 1995. This has been backfilled. The house is elongated up and down the slope and appears to have been subdivided unevenly, so that the upper portion is slightly smaller.

There is a possible entrance in the S (gable) wall, and also opposed entrances in the E and W walls. The trial trench revealed side benches 0.8m wide flanking a sunken central floor. The latter was not disturbed. On the E side there are clear traces of an enclosure or yard about 17m away from the house wall, and running the full length of the house. Other very slight traces of walling occur nearby. 15m to the S of the presumed byre doorway is a hollow, perhaps associated with the drainage of the byre.

About 50m to the WNW, and upslope from the longhouse, is a spring or well. Just NW of this, on a platform which may be partly artificial, are the foundations of a sub-rectangular structure aligned along the slope, with the confused remains of rectangular structures just to its W. These last may be of more recent date. Another structure, in the form of the foundations of a small oval structure, occurs on a slight knoll about 45m NNW from the main house.

The whole complex lies on land which appears to have been cleared for cultivation, laid out in narrow strip fields running up and down the slope, used for a relatively short period and then abandoned. There are no traces of recent field clearance.

This lack of recent arable use may be a result of the remarkable poverty of the soils in this part of Unst, arising from unusual geological conditions, and suggests that what is preserved is the product of a single, fairly short, episode of settlement and clearance. The area to be scheduled includes the house and other foundations noted above, but extends for some distance around these, to include an area within which other foundations and traces of contemporary agricultural use may survive.

This area is an irregular quadrilateral, based on a square of side 200m oriented N-S with an attached triangle on the W side, giving overall measurements of 300m along the S boundary, 200m along the E, 200m along the N and 224m along the W. This is delineated in red on the accompanying map extract.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

This monument is of national importance and international interest (the discovery and research being by a Danish scholar, S Stummann Hansen). It is a quite remarkable survival of high quality as a field monument, showing the characteristics form of a bow-walled longhouse, of the type ascribed to the Viking period. It is of proven archaeological potential, with undisturbed deposits surviving within the walls.

The importance of the monument is enhanced by the lack of more recent arable use of the land around it, which has assisted the survival of contemporary field boundaries, thus affording an opportunity to study much of the complete 'economic unit' of a Viking period farmstead which may be of the primary settlement phase in Shetland. This is arguably the best-preserved unexcavated Norse house so far identified in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland


No Bibliography entries for this designation

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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