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Scord of Brouster, settlement and field system 205m west of Brouster

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland West, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 60.248 / 60°14'52"N

Longitude: -1.5404 / 1°32'25"W

OS Eastings: 425545

OS Northings: 1151610

OS Grid: HU255516

Mapcode National: GBR Q1KN.6Y6

Mapcode Global: XHD2N.BPG3

Entry Name: Scord of Brouster, settlement and field system 205m W of Brouster

Scheduled Date: 31 December 1977

Last Amended: 7 June 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM4052

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house

Location: Walls and Sandness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland West

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument comprises the remains of three prehistoric stone buildings that were constructed and used between about 3000 BC and 1000 BC, together with associated earth and stone banks that define at least six fields. The buildings and field banks are visible as upstanding stone and earth structures. The site lies between 30m and 50m above sea level on a stony slope, 300m NW of the head of Gruting Voe near Bridge of Walls. The monument was first scheduled in 1977 but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The three buildings lie within the field system; two adjoin field banks, whereas the third lies in a field. House 1 is the largest structure and is defined by an oval stone and turf wall measuring 12m NW-SE by 10.5m transversely (external dimensions). The wall takes the form of a heap of stones, faced internally to a height of 0.5m, which encloses a boat-shaped interior measuring 7m by 5.4m. A probable entrance lies at the S end. The facing stones are massive, measuring up to 1m long, and other large stones project into the interior, defining six alcoves around the interior wall face. Slots were cut across the wall during archaeological investigations in 1978-79, but a substantial proportion remains unexcavated. Parts of occupation layers that pre-date the house also survive, together with the cut of a gully located beneath the W wall. On the SW side of the house is a field wall 2m wide and 0.45m high; sample excavation has suggested that the house and field wall are contemporary.

House 2 lies 75m NNE of House 1. It is a stone structure defined by an oval stone wall measuring 9m E-W by 8m transversely (external dimensions). The inner face is formed of upright stones up to 0.8m high. Within the bank, most stones are less than 0.3m long, though larger stones lie close to the base. The outer edge of the wall shows no consistent outer face, probably reflecting later disturbance. The N, E and S walls of the house survive to a height of about 0.5m (on the NW side about 25% of the total circuit of the house wall was removed during archaeological excavation in 1978-79). In addition, parts of buried deposits of occupation layers that pre-date the stone house also survive. On the N side of House 2 is a field wall measuring 1.5m wide and 0.5m high; sample excavation has suggested that the wall was built at more or less the same time as the house. A similar wall to the south may also be broadly contemporary with the house.

House 3 lies 75m NE of House 1 and 30m SE of House 2. It is defined by an oval stone wall measuring 8m N-S by 6.8m transversely (external dimensions) and standing 0.2m-0.5m high, the long axis aligned across the slope of the hill. Excavation demonstrated that the entrance lies on the NE side. Much of the external circumference is faced with upright stones and parts of the interior are also faced. The interior measures 5.1m by 4.5m, with the four shallow recesses and one deep recess giving an irregular plan. Excavation revealed a floor of sandstone pebbles and an oval hearth centrally placed within the lower part of the house interior. Another smaller oval structure defined by an oval stone wall measuring 6m by 5m lay 2m to the SE. Excavation produced no clear evidence for a floor and only a few stone artefacts. A very extensive deposit of stones almost entirely surrounds these two structures. The excavator tentatively concluded that the deposit was laid down after the initial construction and use of House 3, with the adjacent structure built part way through the deposition.

The field system comprises six contiguous, irregularly shaped fields, covering a minimum area of around 2.5 ha. Three less well defined areas bound the inner field system, two of these having walls that extend under peat and the third having little trace of walling but numerous clearance cairns. The upper parts of two of the fields are approximately level, but the system also takes in gently sloping areas as well as steeper ground. The field system faces south.

A multi-phase cairn located 6m to the north of House 1 was largely removed during archaeological excavations conducted between 1977 and 1979.

The area to be scheduled is irregular 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

Although archaeological investigations were conducted here in 1977-79, many components of this site survive in good condition. The excavations saw the removal of internal occupation deposits within the houses, but significant parts of the house walls remain intact and the investigations only sampled a tiny proportion of the surrounding field banks and clearance cairns. Moreover, the excavations have characterised the occupation of the site and have provided a chronological framework in which to set the surviving features, which adds to their interest and importance.

The surviving remains have the potential to inform us about human activities at this site over a long period. The excavation of burnt deposits, features and artefacts found under House 2 provided evidence for occupation of the site from around 3350-3000 BC. Hulled barley was cultivated with the aid of stone tools and there may have been activity in the open or within a lightly built shelter. House 2 was constructed soon afterwards and provided a small, kidney-shaped interior, with stone faced walls and one small raised recess but no defined hearth. Some field walls and clearance cairns were probably already present, including a primary cairn later incorporated within a kerb cairn (both largely removed during the excavations). Pre-house occupation of House 1, including hearths and artefacts, could have overlapped with or succeeded occupation of House 2. House 1 was constructed around 2900'2500 BC, incorporating a well-defined hearth, recesses and entrance. Its large boat-shaped interior measures about 7m by 5m and it continued in use until about 2300-1750 BC or longer. The interior was modified over time and soil erosion increased in the inner field system, which was extended. There is evidence for the dumping of hearth material on the fields. House 3 was in use by around 1800-1500 BC. It provided a smaller, more circular interior with a hearth and well-faced walls. A small subsidiary structure lay nearby. Barley was cultivated and stone agricultural tools were a common find. The occupation may have been of quite short duration and its end may coincide with terrestrial growth of peat around the nearby lake basin. The final activity represented archaeologically was the remodelling of an early clearance cairn to form a kerb cairn as blanket peat began to cover the area around AD 300.

Buried features and deposits sealed below the intact house walls may improve our knowledge of the character and date of activity before stone buildings were erected. Examination of the wall structures themselves can also improve our understanding of Bronze Age building techniques. There is also potential for the recovery of artefacts and ecofacts within the field system, but perhaps especially below the surviving house and field walls where later disturbance will have been limited. These can inform knowledge of day to day agricultural life and of trade and exchange with other communities. There remains potential to examine the sequence in which the field system was established and to test theories that many multi-field systems evolved from single enclosures surrounding individual homesteads. There is also potential to apply modern soil science to gain a better understanding of how land was cultivated and how soils were developed and improved. We can also seek to understand more about the deteriorating environmental conditions and the growth of peat in the later 2nd millennium BC, and to examine how the community responded to increasingly stressful environmental conditions.

Contextual characteristics

The location of the site and the duration of its occupation both suggest that it was part of a well-populated local landscape. Its position in the landscape and its long occupation make little sense unless we suppose there were numerous other settlements in the locality, including some in more favoured locations. We know of several comparable sites elsewhere in West Mainland, including an excavated settlement at Ness of Gruting and neighbouring sites on the east side of Gruting Voe. Many known sites may belong to the late 3rd millennium / early second millennium BC, and so they complement the evidence from Scord of Brouster by telling us about a slightly earlier period. There is potential to make detailed comparisons between the evidence recovered from these various sites. For example, the soil profile at Gruting may have been more favourable and cereal grains recovered there were plumper than those from Scord of Brouster. In addition, there is good evidence for a wealth of archaeological remains extending in all directions across the area immediately surrounding Brouster. These include extensive boundaries, possible house sites, clearance cairns, chambered cairns and other cairns. Scord of Brouster can be considered as part of a wider, well-preserved, prehistoric landscape. To the south, discontinuous stretches of walling up to 800m in length suggest a rough grid pattern, part of which may extend as far as the Loch of Grunnavoe. Settlement sites acting as foci for more intensive activity exist at Gallow Hill, 400m S of Scord of Brouster, and at Pinhoulland, where there are two groups of houses 1.7 km and 2.1 km to the south.

Associative characteristics

The findings of the 1977-79 excavations are set out in a detailed report published in 1986. This was a groundbreaking piece of fieldwork in Shetland because of its analysis of the soils and other environmental evidence in order to understand the agricultural basis of the settlement and the impact of changing conditions.

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 prehistoric settlement and farming in Shetland. Significant parts of three prehistoric houses remain and investigations conducted in 1977-9 have provided radiocarbon dates that give an insight into the chronology of the settlement. The excavations also provided a substantial finds assemblage that enhances our understanding both of the surviving structures and of how the associated field system was managed. The importance of the site is significantly increased by the presence of several comparable settlements and field systems in the immediate vicinity, and by a variety of more extensive prehistoric boundaries that together allow us to examine the place of this and other settlements in the prehistoric landscape of West Mainland. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the early settlement and agriculture of Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the site as HU25SE 26 (Canmore ID 405). The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR records the site as MSN2326 (PrefRef 2209).

References

Whittle, A et al, 1986 Scord of Brouster; an Early Agricultural Settlement on Shetland, Oxford Univ Committee for Archaeol, monog 9. Oxford.

Turner, V, 2011 'From homestead enclosure to farm' in Mahler, C L and Andersen, C, (eds) Farming on the edge: Cultural Landscapes of the North. Northern Worlds Project, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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