Ancient Monuments

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Knowe of Willol, burnt mound 340m ESE of Braefield

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland South, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 59.9461 / 59°56'46"N

Longitude: -1.2663 / 1°15'58"W

OS Eastings: 441091

OS Northings: 1118132

OS Grid: HU410181

Mapcode National: GBR R27F.SJP

Mapcode Global: XHD49.X8JH

Entry Name: Knowe of Willol, burnt mound 340m ESE of Braefield

Scheduled Date: 13 August 1975

Last Amended: 24 February 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3702

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Dunrossness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland South

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a burnt mound, visible as a near circular turf-covered bank encircling a central hollow. The burnt mound is most likely to date to between 2000 BC and 1000 BC. The monument lies about 15m above sea level on the south bank of the Burn of the Rait, 200m inland from the east coast of south Mainland, at the base of a long north-facing slope. 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 almost circular on plan, 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 earthwork in excellent overall condition. The mound measures about 16m in diameter, the circular bank being 5.5m wide and the central hollow 5m in diameter. The mound has a maximum height of about 2m. Overall, the monument is approximately circular in shape. The bank is lowest on the N side and the central hollow may have been accessed from this direction. The turf covering obscures the composition of the mound.

Burnt mounds are heaps of fire-cracked stone, usually occurring 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. After several immersions, the stones would crack and were discarded to form burnt mounds. Burnt mounds are often accompanied by troughs that retained 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. 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/sweat-lodges (possibly medicinal as well as sanitary); as baths; or for textile production (dying; fulling), brewing or leather working. Burnt mounds are often found in relatively isolated locations in Scotland, but in Shetland they are sometimes found in association with settlement remains.

This monument has suffered little disturbance and has excellent 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 use of burnt mounds and there is good potential for an undisturbed trough to lie buried in the central hollow. Furthermore, 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. 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 Isles, the 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.

This burnt mound can be compared with another example located only 1 km to the west, beside the Burn of Clumlie. It can also be compared with a range of other archaeological sites in the vicinity, including lazy beds immediately to the west; extensive remains of a field system centred 400m to the north at Virdi Field; a cist 750m to the north-west, also named Virdi Field; and a possible prehistoric house 430m to the south-east at Drooping Point. Further study of nearby monuments and their relationship to the burnt mounds may increase our knowledge of the way in which prehistoric society used different parts of the landscape.

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, in particular prehistoric society and the construction and use of burnt mounds, and their placing in the landscape. The good preservation of the monument, the fact that it is unusually large suggesting longevity of use, and the existence of a second burnt mound 1 km to the west, all enhance this potential. The loss of this monument 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 site as HU41NW 7. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN642.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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