Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Haa, Skelberry, burnt mound 310m NNE of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.5641 / 60°33'50"N

Longitude: -1.3351 / 1°20'6"W

OS Eastings: 436553

OS Northings: 1186912

OS Grid: HU365869

Mapcode National: GBR R01T.JXY

Mapcode Global: XHD16.0QST

Entry Name: Haa, Skelberry, burnt mound 310m NNE of

Scheduled Date: 8 April 1975

Last Amended: 24 February 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3570

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a substantial burnt mound, visible as an upstanding horseshoe-shaped earthwork measuring about 19m NW-SE by 15m transversely and standing up to 2.1m high. The open end of the mound faces a small stream 20m to the southwest. The burnt mound is likely to date to between 2000 and 1000 BC. The monument lies 310m NNE of Haa, Skelberry, on grazing land 25m west of the A970 road. It stands at around 35m above sea level towards the base of a valley that leads north for 1.5km to meet the sea at Burra Voe. The monument was first scheduled in 1975, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, with maximum measurements of 36.5m by 34m, 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 the post-and-wire fences that cross the scheduled area 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

This monument survives in good condition as an upstanding, largely turf-covered mound. It has excellent field characteristics and shows the classic horseshoe or crescent shape typical of burnt mounds. Several small localised areas of erosion show that, beneath the turf, the mound is composed mainly of small fire-reddened stones. It is very probable that the remains of a trough survive towards the centre of the monument, in the low area surrounded by the mound. This 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 is likely to 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

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. 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.

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.

Two chambered cairns sited around 1.5km south of this burnt mound demonstrate that this part of the landscape had been utilised by people in the Neolithic period, probably several centuries before the burnt mound developed. Another cairn and a standing stone close to the chambered cairns hint that activity here may have continued into the Bronze Age. It is probable that the burnt mound was part of a wider contemporary landscape of settlement and land-use, and there is potential to investigate whether the burnt mound is sited close to, or away from, foci of contemporary domestic activity.

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, which retains its form to a marked degree, enhances 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 HU38NE 10. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN405 (PrefRef 405).

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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