Ancient Monuments

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Nesbister Hill, cairn 350m east of Wastower

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland West, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.1913 / 60°11'28"N

Longitude: -1.2762 / 1°16'34"W

OS Eastings: 440241

OS Northings: 1145429

OS Grid: HU402454

Mapcode National: GBR R16S.V8P

Mapcode Global: XHD34.S3KJ

Entry Name: Nesbister Hill, cairn 350m E of Wastower

Scheduled Date: 5 February 1974

Last Amended: 24 February 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2041

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: enclosure (domestic or defensive); Prehistoric ritual and funera

Location: Tingwall

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland West

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument is a round cairn of the Neolithic or Bronze Age, built probably between 4000 and 1000 BC. It is visible as a low mound of boulders, about 12m in diameter and standing up to 1m high. A cist formed of massive stone slabs lies at the centre of the cairn. It measures 1.2m NNE-SSW by 0.8m transversely by 0.6m deep, the cover slab lying half inside. The cairn is of particular interest because two to three courses of its external vertical wall face are visible on the NW side. An enclosure formed of boulders and earth banks, up to 2m wide and 0.4m high, lies 11m northeast of the cairn. The enclosure is oval in plan and measures 19m ENE by 11m transversely. The cairn stands 130m above sea level on top of Nesbister Hill. It offers very extensive views in all directions, but especially down Whiteness Voe to the Burra group of islands, along the south coast of West Mainland and across to Foula. The monument was first scheduled in 1954, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, measuring 59m SW-NE by 31m transversely. The scheduling includes 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 excavation of similar mounds elsewhere in Scotland has demonstrated that round cairns were often used to cover and mark human burials and are late Neolithic or Bronze Age in origin, dating most commonly from the late third millennium BC to the early second millennium BC. The cist in the centre of this cairn has been opened in the past and it is not known what was found. However, much of the monument appears intact and is in good condition, suggesting that archaeological information is likely to survive beneath its surface. One or more additional burials may survive, particularly as archaeologists often find burials away from the centres of cairns. Burial cairns of this date may incorporate or overlie several graves or pits containing cist settings, skeletal remains in the form of cremations or inhumations, pottery and stone tools. These deposits can help us understand more about the practice and significance of burial and commemoration of the dead at specific times in prehistory. They may also help us to understand the changing structure of society in the area. In addition, the cairn is likely to overlie and seal a buried land surface that could provide evidence of the immediate environment before the monument was constructed. Botanical remains, including pollen or charred plant material, may survive within archaeological deposits deriving from the cairn's construction and use. This evidence can help us build up a picture of climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area before and during construction and use of the cairn. There is also potential to examine the construction and dating of the enclosure to the northeast and to study its relationship with the cairn.

Contextual characteristics

Cairns are well represented in the Shetland Islands, but researchers have singled out this example as the best preserved of Shetland's circular stone-built cairns. It has particular interest because of the preservation of part of its external wall face and because of its landscape position dominating a long stretch of the west coast of Mainland.

Across Scotland, cairns seem to be positioned in relation to their visibility, often specifically located to maximise their visual impact, and they are often inter-visible. The position and significance of this cairn in relation to other prehistoric monuments is likely to be significant and merits future detailed analysis. There is a standing stone 1.1km to the NNE on the S slope of Wormadale Hill and another 1.4km to the WSW, both in locations visible from the cairn. There is also a chambered cairn 1.4km to the WSW that is not visible from Nesbister Hill. Comparison of this cairn with other prehistoric sites in the area means that this monument has the potential to further our understanding of ritual and funerary site location and practice and to enhance understanding of the structure of early prehistoric society and economy.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, particularly the design and construction of burial monuments, the nature of burial practices, and their significance in prehistoric and later society. Buried evidence from cairns can also enhance our knowledge about wider prehistoric society, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. This monument is particularly valuable because it lies in a landscape where there is a variety of prehistoric monuments, including standing stones and other cairns. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the placing of such monuments within the landscape and the meaning and importance of death and burial in prehistoric life.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU44NW 2. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN957 (PrefRef 917).


Feachem, R W, 1963 A Guide to Prehistoric Scotland. London. 85

RCAHMS 1946 Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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