Ancient Monuments

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King's Knowe, settlement and field system 260m south of Vestinore

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland South, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.0319 / 60°1'54"N

Longitude: -1.2354 / 1°14'7"W

OS Eastings: 442705

OS Northings: 1127707

OS Grid: HU427277

Mapcode National: GBR R296.W14

Mapcode Global: XHD3Y.B35P

Entry Name: King's Knowe, settlement and field system 260m S of Vestinore

Scheduled Date: 5 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13065

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: Viking settlement, Norse settlement

Location: Dunrossness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland South

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a group of three buildings and a field bank. These remains are likely to date to the Norse or medieval period and were probably in use sometime during the period AD 800 to 1300. The monument is located on improved grazing land on an E-facing sloping terrace at around 50m above sea level, some 100m west of the coastline at the Bay of Mail.

The three buildings survive as a series of low, sub-rectangular turf-covered structures standing between 0.25m and 1m high. The largest building lies to the north and measures 8.5m by 5.5m, while the smallest building is the middle of the three and measures 5.5m by 4.5m. Both of these abut and are enclosed by a linear section of a dyke that runs N-S for a length of 80 metres before turning abruptly east and descending the slope. The southernmost building, which measures 7.5m by 5.5m, is aligned W-E and both abuts and is enclosed by the dyke on its return.

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. All the above-ground elements of post-and-wire fences are specifically excluded from the scheduling to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

This small group of buildings is in generally good condition. The wide, low courses of the structures are largely intact and their sub-rectangular form is clearly visible. A possible doorway is visible at the N end of the northernmost building. The ground surface within the structures appears largely undisturbed and important buried deposits are likely to have been sealed by the collapse of the structures after their abandonment. The buildings and associated field bank have the potential to tell us much about the design, construction and function of Norse or medieval buildings, and their place within the landscape during this period. Archaeological investigation of Viking settlements at Jarlshof, south Mainland, and Underhoull, Unst, and late Norse settlements in Papa Stour and Unst, have yielded high quality artefactual and environmental evidence. The King's Knowe site has high potential to yield information that would further enhance our knowledge of the Viking, late Norse and medieval periods in the Northern Isles.

Contextual characteristics

Settlements of the Viking, late Norse and medieval period in Shetland remain relatively poorly understood. In terms of the wider landscape context, the buildings at King's Knowe occupy an impressive location above the Bay of Mail. However, it is especially notable that these structures are located only 650m NNE of the important and extensive steatite workings at Cunningsburgh, on either side of the Catpund Burn. Steatite, a soft rock also known as soapstone, was largely composed of talc and could be carved easily to make a wide range of useful objects. Steatite outcrops occur in a number of places in mainland Shetland, Fetlar and Unst, but the Cunningsburgh steatite workings are the most significant to have been identified and studied to date. They are thought to have formed an important part of a Pictish power centre at Cunningsburgh, which was taken over by the Norse at an early stage in their colonisation of the islands. Steatite was much valued and was already familiar to the Vikings in their homeland. It was widely used to make a wide variety of objects, from bowls, dishes and lamps, to fishing line sinkers, spindle whorls and other equipment. Given the proximity of King's Knowe to the Cunningsburgh workings, it is likely that the site at King's Knowe may yield further evidence connected with the steatite industry.

Prehistoric features have also been identified on land above the site.

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, particularly settlement during the Viking, late Norse and medieval period in Shetland. King's Knowe represents an unexcavated example of a small settlement or farmstead, with an associated field system, in relatively good condition. It is highly likely to contain significant structural, artefactual and environmental evidence. The location of King's Knowe, close to the important steatite workings at Cunningsburgh, adds to its importance and could help us to understand better the relationship between the steatite workings and contemporary settlement in the vicinity.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



There is no RCAHMS record for this site. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN5418.


Ritchie, A, 1993, Viking Scotland, 61-2. Batsford Press and Historic Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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