Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Skeoverick, burnt mounds 150m north east and 115m ENE of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland West, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2432 / 60°14'35"N

Longitude: -1.5528 / 1°33'10"W

OS Eastings: 424859

OS Northings: 1151075

OS Grid: HU248510

Mapcode National: GBR Q1JN.M78

Mapcode Global: XHD2N.5SFS

Entry Name: Skeoverick, burnt mounds 150m NE and 115m ENE of

Scheduled Date: 24 February 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13011

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Walls and Sandness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland West

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of two burnt mounds, visible as two substantial crescent-shaped grass-covered banks encircling central flat areas. The burnt mounds are most likely to date to between 2000 BC and 1000 BC. They are located on improved grazing land at around 25m above sea level, on ground that slopes down to a burn leading to Loch of Brunatwatt, 160m to the east.

The two areas to be scheduled are both circular on plan, the northernmost measuring 24m in diameter and the southernmost 21m, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to their construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

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 two substantial upstanding mounds in good overall condition, some 50m apart. There is localised disturbance on the NE face of the northern mound where animal burrowing has occurred, and the mound may have been slightly truncated along its SW edge which is straight and steeply banked, but the overall form is intact. The northern mound measures around 10m NE-SW by 14m transversely and stands up to 2m high. It is formed by a single bank with a central flat area to the north-east, facing towards the burn. Small exposures around the NE edge demonstrate that the mound is composed of small angular fire-cracked stones and earth. The southern mound is formed by a single bank with a central flat area to the north. It measures around 11m E-W by 9m transversely and stands up to 1.5m high, but is considerably lower on the W side (c 0.8m high). Both mounds are approximately circular in shape.

Burnt mounds are made from heaps of burnt and fire-cracked stones, occurring usually within a matrix of dark soil and perhaps charcoal or ash. The common crescent shape is formed as discarded material accumulates around a central area, which is normally where the water-heating activities took place. 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.

The unexcavated burnt mounds at Skeoverick are substantially intact and have excellent potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of burnt mounds, their function(s) and duration. They may also contain artefacts or ecofacts that can increase this understanding. The mounds may have accumulated directly on an old ground surface and sealed 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 1900 recorded examples of burnt mounds in Scotland with notable concentrations in some areas, including Shetland. However, these concentrations largely correlate with surveyed areas and may not reflect the true distribution. The concentration in Shetland may also reflect survival because of a lack of later development or agricultural improvement. Burnt mounds in the Northern and Western Isles and in the north of mainland Scotland are often particularly large. They often show the 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.

These two very large burnt mounds are sited only some 50m apart and near a watercourse. The presence of a pair of mounds contrasts with the numerous single burnt mounds found elsewhere. This proximity offers the potential to compare and contrast the mounds and study the nature of any relationship between them, enhancing their significance. The immediate area is rich in archaeological sites, including a cluster of prehistoric cairns at Gallow Hill, 550m to the ESE, a heel-shaped chambered cairn at Hansie's Crooie, 525m to the NW, a long cairn at Cattapund Knowe, 445m to the N, and a settlement and field systems at Scord of Brouster, 800m to the NE. While these may belong to a broadly similar period in prehistory, the exact chronological relationship between them and the mounds has not been established. Further study of nearby monuments in relationship to the burnt mounds may increase our knowledge of the way in which prehistoric society used different parts of the landscape.

National Importance

These monuments are of national importance because they have an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular, the construction and use of burnt mounds and their placing in the prehistoric landscape. The potential is enhanced by the presence of two substantial mounds close together and in good condition, and because their large size suggests longevity of use. The loss of these monuments would impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric ritual and domestic practice, both in Shetland and in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the sites as HU25SW 10. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN2593.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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