Ancient Monuments

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Loch of Asta, burnt mound 180m ESE of Peerie Asta

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland Central, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 60.1523 / 60°9'8"N

Longitude: -1.2598 / 1°15'35"W

OS Eastings: 441194

OS Northings: 1141097

OS Grid: HU411410

Mapcode National: GBR R17X.3DT

Mapcode Global: XHD3C.029X

Entry Name: Loch of Asta, burnt mound 180m ESE of Peerie Asta

Scheduled Date: 31 December 1957

Last Amended: 24 February 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2026

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Tingwall

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland Central

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a substantial burnt mound, visible as an almost circular earthwork some 12m in diameter and standing 2m high. The burnt mound is likely to date to between 2000 and 1000 BC. The monument lies on grazing land less than 5m from the west shore of the Loch of Asta, at around 10m above sea level. The monument was first scheduled in 1957, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, measuring 31.5m N-S by 25m W-E maximum across the centre of the mound, 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.

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 good overall condition, despite some intrusion and disturbance by burrowing animals. The monument has a flat top with a small area of erosion on the east side where grass has subsequently re-grown.

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.

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. The remains of an interesting 'two-storey' cist grave lie 200m to the south-west and a there is a fine standing stone 920m to the north. The monument was clearly part of a wider occupied landscape in which broadly contemporary ritual and funerary activities took place.

Associative characteristics

The monument is shown on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map and is labelled 'tumulus'.

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 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

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as HU44SW 8. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN670 (PrefRef 894).

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Other nearby scheduled monuments

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