Ancient Monuments

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Islesburgh, prehistoric houses 560m and 685m NNW of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.4107 / 60°24'38"N

Longitude: -1.3972 / 1°23'49"W

OS Eastings: 433305

OS Northings: 1169800

OS Grid: HU333698

Mapcode National: GBR Q1X7.0G9

Mapcode Global: XHD1Y.6LKC

Entry Name: Islesburgh, prehistoric houses 560m and 685m NNW of

Scheduled Date: 20 August 1974

Last Amended: 5 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3487

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a cluster of four prehistoric houses, each visible as a roughly oval bank of turf and stones with a hollow centre. The houses are believed to be late Neolithic or Bronze Age in date, around 3000 to 1000 BC.

The southernmost house is approximately 10m N-S by 8m transversely, but has been partly eroded by the sea. Another house lies around 100m to the NW. It measures 11m NE-SW by 9m transversely and is cut into the slope. The two largest and best preserved houses lie a further 60m to the NW and are only 20m apart from each other. They are also cut into the slope. They measure 14m by 10m and 12m by 10m respectively, with their longer axis E-W. Both consist of low footings of turf and stone and have E-facing entrances.

The houses are located on semi-improved grassland on the gently sloping western bank of Mangaster Voe, at around 10m above sea level. The monument was originally scheduled in 1974 but the area was inadequate and the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is in two parts, 80m apart. The first includes the remains of the southernmost house and is circular in plan, 30m in diameter, and clipped by the shore. The second includes the other three houses and is rectilinear in shape, measuring approximately 90m NNW-SSE by 88m transversely. The areas 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 prehistoric houses survive in reasonably good condition overall: the form of the houses is visible and sections of stone wall-facing protrude through the turf in places. The site is likely to contain important buried deposits, including artefacts, ecofacts and other environmental evidence.

Examination of the building foundations can give us detailed information about the form and construction of prehistoric houses, while buried features within their interiors can contribute to our understanding of how houses were used and how this changed over time. Buried artefacts and ecofacts and buried soils can contribute to our understanding of how people lived and worked, and allow us to improve our understanding of prehistoric trade and exchange and the nature of the agricultural economy. Archaeological investigation at similar sites has yielded high quality artefactual and ecofactual material, which can help us to build up a much fuller picture of prehistoric domestic life.

Contextual characteristics

The houses in this group are good examples of a number of broadly similar prehistoric houses that characterise early settlement and the development of agriculture in the third to second millennium BC in Shetland. They are part of a relatively rare and geographically restricted group, which gives us a more balanced view of prehistoric life when compared with the more common and widespread burial and ceremonial monuments of the later Neolithic elsewhere in Scotland.

The house lies in close proximity to other broadly contemporary monuments: two other prehistoric houses lie approximately 360m to the NW and another prehistoric house is located 1.3km to the south. This monument is an important element of a much wider relict landscape and it testifies to early human efforts to exploit land and natural resources for agricultural production. There can be an impressive time-depth to these early houses, as may well be the case here, which can tell us much about change and continuity over long periods. Comparison of this site with the other prehistoric domestic remains in the area could help us to develop a better understanding of prehistoric domestic life and landuse.

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, the nature of prehistoric settlement, agriculture and landuse in Shetland. It has the potential to improve our understanding of the distribution of settlement, the structural techniques used to build houses and changes in the nature of settlement over time. There is also excellent potential to study how this 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 prehistoric domestic architecture and settlement, both in Shetland and Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU37SW 3.


Calder, C S T, 1958 'Stone Age house-sites in Shetland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 89, 367.

Calder, C.S.T, 1965 'Cairns, Neolithic Houses and Burnt Mounds in Shetland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 96, 45-7.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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