Ancient Monuments

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Sulma Water, prehistoric house 800m south of Fogrigarth

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland West, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2803 / 60°16'49"N

Longitude: -1.537 / 1°32'13"W

OS Eastings: 425706

OS Northings: 1155217

OS Grid: HU257552

Mapcode National: GBR Q1KK.NGQ

Mapcode Global: XHD2G.CVTT

Entry Name: Sulma Water, prehistoric house 800m S of Fogrigarth

Scheduled Date: 28 December 1953

Last Amended: 30 March 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2037

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cairn (type uncertain)

Location: Sandsting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland West

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a circular stone structure, about 10m in diameter, interpreted as the remains of a prehistoric house which was later adapted, perhaps to form a cairn. The remains are probably Neolithic or Bronze Age in origin and likely to date to between 3500 and 800 BC. The monument lies 20m above sea level on sloping ground, some 45m from the W shore of Sulma Water. As well as overlooking the lake, the site offers long views to the east. 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 circular on plan, measuring 30m 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 structure has been remodelled several times, most recently by the construction of a stone wall around three sides of the perimeter to form a sheep shelter. On the NE side where there is no wall, an earth and stone bank with internal stone revetment defines the edge of the structure. Upright stones form an entrance passage on the S side and a tumble of large stones fills the interior. Within this, a smaller sub-circular feature is discernible, its interior defined by large facing stones.

Researchers have interpreted this monument as either a prehistoric house or a cairn, but it is possible that the structure was built as a house and then later adapted, perhaps to form a cairn. The stone and earth bank on the NE side and the probable recesses in the internal wall are indicative of a domestic function, but there are additional features of probable prehistoric date that appear incompatible with a single phase structure and imply a development sequence from house to possible cairn. These include the sub-circular structure with large facing stones off-centre towards the south, the narrow entrance passage which was subsequently blocked, and the volume of large stones piled within the interior.

Although the monument has seen some modern modification to form a sheep pen, elements of the prehistoric structure nevertheless survive in good condition as upstanding features.

The monument's good preservation and possible dual function means that it has excellent potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of prehistoric houses and cairns and how their use changed over time. Examination of the building foundations can give us detailed information about the form and construction of houses, while buried features within the building interior can contribute to understanding of how houses were used and how this might change over time. Buried artefacts and ecofacts and buried soils can contribute to our understanding of how people lived and worked, trade and exchange and the nature of the agricultural economy. In addition, the possible cairn can tell us about commemoration of the dead and how this altered over time. There is also potential to investigate the chronological relationship between the house and its possible reuse as a funerary monument.

Contextual characteristics

There are around 200 recorded examples of prehistoric houses in Shetland. However, this example is unusual in that it preserves upstanding evidence for a change of function within the prehistoric past. A field wall leads from the structure to the loch shore and ruined walls and clearance cairns suggest there is a small associated field system in the vicinity. There is also potential to compare this monument with three cairns that lie between 430m and 785m to the south and SSW; with probable prehistoric houses that lie within 2.5 km at Kirka Water to the west and Loch of Voxterby to the south; and with more extensive prehistoric settlements less than 3.5 km to the south at Trolligarts and Scord of Brouster.

Associative characteristics

The monument is marked on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map and is labelled Tuml', reflecting early interpretations of the site as a simple cairn.

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 of prehistoric houses in Shetland and their reuse. The good preservation of the monument and its proximity to other houses and cairns enhance this potential. There is excellent potential to study how the site fitted into a landscape that is rich in prehistoric remains. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric domestic and funerary practice in Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as HU25NE 3 (Canmore ID 365). The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR records the site as MSN2644 (PrefRef 2545).


Calder, C S T, 1965 'Cairns, Neolithic houses and burnt mounds in Shetland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 96, 47-9.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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