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Spoull, Norse settlement 80m WNW of, Unst

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 60.7837 / 60°47'1"N

Longitude: -0.846 / 0°50'45"W

OS Eastings: 462938

OS Northings: 1211739

OS Grid: HP629117

Mapcode National: GBR S087.DY6

Mapcode Global: XHF75.F63Y

Entry Name: Spoull, Norse settlement 80m WNW of, Unst

Scheduled Date: 5 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13152

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: Viking settlement, Norse settlement

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument comprises a Norse longhouse with three adjoining annexes, built and occupied probably between AD 800 and AD 1300. The longhouse and annexes are visible as turf-covered stone walls, aligned approximately SSW-NNE down the slope. The monument lies at 20m above sea level on the northern slopes of Nikka Vord, overlooking Gardie and Harold's Wick bay.

The longhouse measures approximately 21m SSW-NNE by 6m transversely and has turf-covered wall footings, 1.8m wide and up to 0.5m high. The southern end of the house is partly overlain by a later sub-circular stone enclosure, but the short end-wall is traceable under the enclosure and appears slightly rounded. The floor surface of the longhouse slopes downwards along its whole length. There is no evidence of the northern (downslope) end-wall where the main entrance to the building might have been located, which suggests either that it was built mainly of perishable materials, such as timber or turf, or that it was left open. Immediately outside this end of the building is a roughly circular boggy area, 3m across, possibly denoting a sump or drain. There is a possible entrance, 1.4m wide, located towards the southern end of the eastern long wall. No internal subdivisions are visible in the longhouse itself. An annexe attached to the S end of the W long wall measures 6m SSW-NNE by 3.5m transversely, with a 0.9m wide entrance into the longhouse. There appear to be a further two annexes or 'rooms' attached to the eastern long wall, the southernmost measuring 4m by 2m and the northernmost 10m by 2m transversely, defined by intermittent low turf banks up to 0.4m high and 0.8m wide. The northernmost annexe appears to have had direct access into the longhouse. The build of the annexes appears to be identical to that of the longhouse. The later sub-circular enclosure overlying the southern end of the longhouse measures around 6m by 5m, with walls up to 0.6m high. There are no indications of a yard or enclosure contemporary with the longhouse.

The area to be scheduled is rectangular in 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. Along the W side, the scheduling extends up to but excludes a drystone wall.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

This monument survives in good condition, despite the presence of the later enclosure which was built probably partly of stone reused from the longhouse. Significant buried archaeological remains are expected to be preserved beneath and around the visible upstanding structures. The presence of three attached annexes is unusual in the known corpus of Norse houses. However, this house closely resembles several excavated examples in Unst, especially the longhouse at Upper Underhoull, which also had annexes and one end apparently open or built of timber or turf which has rotted away. The excavated longhouse at Hamar revealed evidence of earlier Norse occupation beneath the visible building, and it is possible that the Spoull longhouse may also exhibit a developmental sequence. It is probable that wall foundations, pits, floor surfaces, hearths and other features survive beneath the ground surface at Spoull. The buried remains are also likely to include a potentially rich assemblage of artefacts and ecofacts that can help us understand how people lived at this site, how they farmed and used the natural environment, and what contacts they had with other groups. Researchers may be able to date the buried remains more closely to ascertain when the house was built, the duration of its occupation and when it was abandoned. There is also potential to examine how the inhabitants managed the landscape in the immediate vicinity.

Contextual characteristics

Norse houses are rare in Scotland, but Unst contains many of the best-preserved examples with upwards of 30 identified across the island. This Norse longhouse can be compared with a number of others in Unst, including examples at Belmont, Hamar, Haroldswick, Underhoull and Gardie, the latter located only some 600m east of Spoull. The style of construction, the size and shape of the houses, the presence of an annexe or annexes and, sometimes, yards or enclosures, are relatively similar across this group. Together, the Norse houses in Unst have exceptionally high group value, with the potential to teach us much about the rate and process of Norse colonisation of Unst and Shetland, the settlement pattern established by the Norse settlers, their way of life, and the nature of any interaction with the native inhabitants.

A number of other Norse settlements are known in Shetland, not least at Jarlshof in south Mainland, but the picture in Unst appears distinctive - not only in terms of the density of settlement, but also in that some of the houses are located inland and not on the coast, as in this case. Unlike the nearby Norse house at Gardie, and another house at Soterberg 1.2km to the east, there is no evidence that the Spoull longhouse was set within a contemporary field system. The longhouse at Spoull is located in an area that today appears marginal in terms of the quality of the surrounding land, although the house itself is substantial. It is not known whether this results from poor land management subsequent to the Norse period, or whether the land was always of lower quality. It is also notable that Spoull is located a little inland, about 650m from the nearest bay at Harold's Wick, and faces almost north rather than towards the sea as might have been expected. This might suggest that Spoull was a later Norse farmstead, established after the initial phase of colonisation. The site at Spoull has the potential to help answer research questions regarding the Norse settlement pattern and the differing functions and social status of Norse farmsteads.

Associative characteristics

The longhouse at Spoull is not recorded on any edition of the 6-inch OS map for Unst, although the stone enclosure is recorded on the 2nd edition.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of Norse settlement and land-use in Unst and Shetland. It can also enhance and augment our understanding of the function and wider setting of Norse houses in the landscape. It has the potential to improve our understanding of the distribution of Norse settlement, the structural techniques used to build houses, changes in the nature of settlement over time, and the relationship of Norse houses and farmsteads to those of the native and earlier inhabitants. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand Norse settlement in the Shetland Islands.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

The NMRS has no record for the site. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN3551 (PrefRef 3551).

References

N/A

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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