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Balta Isle, stone settings 500m NNW of lighthouse

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.7443 / 60°44'39"N

Longitude: -0.7978 / 0°47'52"W

OS Eastings: 465641

OS Northings: 1207402

OS Grid: HP656074

Mapcode National: GBR S0CB.QZF

Mapcode Global: XHF7D.16QM

Entry Name: Balta Isle, stone settings 500m NNW of lighthouse

Scheduled Date: 19 December 2002

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM10426

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn; Secular: Viking graves (pagan)

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises two extensive areas containing numerous enigmatic stone settings, situated on the SW end of the uninhabited Balta Isle. Group 1 (the westernmost group) lies on low lying, fairly flat ground by the shore, at between 10 and 20m OD; Group 2 (the easternmost group) lies near the summit of the S end (at c.38m OD), predominantly on the gently sloping E and S side of the hill.

The stone settings were first noted in the 1990s, and a topographic survey and limited geophysical survey was undertaken in 2000. The majority of the features are stone settings, most of which are oval, and some are slightly pointed at both ends. Others are sub-rectangular, and some are incomplete or only partially visible. Some have a relatively continuous edge and others do not.

According to the recent survey, Group 1 comprises 51 stone settings, the majority aligned between NNE-SSW and E-W. Group 2 comprises 25 surveyed features, of which three are interpreted as the remains of possible chambered cairns and one is thought to be a dyke. Most settings are aligned with the slope.

It has been suggested that the stone settings might represent the remains of pagan Norse burials, partly because many seem to be 'boat-shaped', but geophysical survey to date has been inconclusive as to their precise form and function. Other plausible interpretations include Iron Age settings of unknown purpose, the footings of huts, or the bases of 'moldie-cooses' (places for storing peat). On balance, it seems most likely that they are Iron Age or Norse in date.

The areas to be scheduled are irregular on plan with maximum dimensions of approximately 150m E-W by 280m N-S (Group 1) and 205m E-W by 205m N-S (Group 2), as marked in red on the accompanying map. The above ground and below ground remains of a modern hut are excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as the remains of a rare and extensive, albeit enigmatic, range of unusual stone settings that have the potential to provide information about Iron Age and/or Norse burial and social practices.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as HP 60 NE 1


Turner, V. E. and Larsen A. C. (2001) 'Balta Isle, Shetland (Unst parish), stone settings', Discovery Excav Scot, vol. 2, 85.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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