Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Auchensalt, burnt mound 85m east of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.4742 / 60°28'27"N

Longitude: -1.2067 / 1°12'24"W

OS Eastings: 443712

OS Northings: 1176986

OS Grid: HU437769

Mapcode National: GBR R1C1.XBJ

Mapcode Global: XHD1M.PZQP

Entry Name: Auchensalt, burnt mound 85m E of

Scheduled Date: 20 December 1974

Last Amended: 24 February 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3556

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Delting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a substantial burnt mound, visible as an approximately crescent-shaped earthwork some 10m in overall diameter and standing 1.5m high. The burnt mound is likelt to date to between 2000 and 1000 BC. The monument is located at around 30m above sea level, on grazing land which slopes to the east and overlooks Tofts Voe and Yell to the northeast. In the immediate vicinity are the ruined remains of a small croft to the east and an artificial watercourse to the west. The monument was first scheduled in 1974, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, measuring 20m in diameter, centred on the centre of the monument. 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 monument survives as an upstanding, turf-covered earthwork in good overall condition, despite some intrusion and disturbance by burrowing animals. Soil poaching in places has exposed some of the underlying burnt and fire-cracked stones of which the mound is mainly composed. A central depression separates the northern and southern 'arms' of the mound, with the latter being substantially smaller than the former. The two parts of the mound are conjoined by a bank on the west side of the monument.

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 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 monument has good potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of burnt mounds, their function(s) and duration. It and the immediately surrounding ground may contain artefacts or ecofacts that can increase our understanding of what burnt mounds were for and how they were used. The mound may also 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. However, these concentrations largely correlate with surveyed areas and may not reflect the true distribution of burnt mounds. 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.

The proximity of this example to a second burnt mound just 100m to the southeast is interesting when compared with the single, isolated examples more common elsewhere. These monuments do not survive (and are not likely to have been used) in isolation, but were and are part of a wider contemporary landscape of settlement and land-use.

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 a second burnt mound, 100m to the southeast, enhance this potential. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric domestic and ritual practice, both in Shetland and in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU47NW 4.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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