Ancient Monuments

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Manse, 3 burnt mounds 160m ESE of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland South, Shetland Islands

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Coordinates

Latitude: 59.9303 / 59°55'49"N

Longitude: -1.2984 / 1°17'54"W

OS Eastings: 439314

OS Northings: 1116353

OS Grid: HU393163

Mapcode National: GBR R24H.9QG

Mapcode Global: XHD49.HNKM

Entry Name: Manse, 3 burnt mounds 160m ESE of

Scheduled Date: 15 August 1975

Last Amended: 12 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3728

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Dunrossness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland South

Traditional County: Shetland

Description

The monument comprises the remains of three substantial burnt mounds, visible as crescent-shaped earthworks, each about 10m in diameter and standing between 1m and 3m high. The burnt mounds are most likely to date to between 2000 BC and 1000 BC. The mounds are located at around 20m above sea level. The monument was first scheduled in 1975, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to incorporate the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to their construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded from this scheduling are the above-ground elements of a post-and-wire fence that runs east to west, immediately north of the largest mound, to allow for its maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives as a series of upstanding, turf-covered earthworks in good overall condition, despite some intrusion and disturbance by burrowing animals. Soil poaching in places has exposed some of the underlying burnt and fire-cracked stones.

Burnt mounds are made from the waste products (stones) used to heat water probably for a variety of purposes. The crescent shape is formed as discarded material accumulates around a central area, which is normally where water-heating activities took place. After several immersions, the heated stones would crack and break and were discarded to form burnt mounds. As well as the overall form of the earthworks and their composition predominantly of burnt stones, the existence of a water source close by helps to verify the function of this site.

The monument has good potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of burnt mounds, their function(s) and duration. It and the immediately surrounding ground may contain artefacts or ecofacts that can increase our understanding of what they were for and how they were used. The mounds may also have accumulated directly on an old ground surface, which may contain important environmental information that could increase our knowledge of the landscape and land-use before and during the mound's creation.

Contextual characteristics

There are around 1,900 recorded examples of burnt mounds in Scotland with notable concentrations in some areas, including Shetland. These concentrations largely correlate with surveyed areas and may not reflect the true distribution of burnt mounds. In Shetland, for example, there has been relatively fewer and less destructive land-use pressures. These are large examples of burnt mounds and characteristic of many in Shetland, which suggests a greater level of burnt mound activity here, perhaps over a longer period of time. Large mounds may also have served different social and practical functions to smaller mounds.

In Scotland, excavated examples typically date to the middle Bronze Age, around 1500 BC, but the overall range of dates varies from the late Neolithic through to the early historic period (around 2400 BC to AD 900). A common interpretation of these monuments in Scotland is that they were used to boil water for cooking. However, researchers have also suggested that they could have been used as saunas or sweat-lodges (possibly medicinal as well as sanitary); as baths; or for textile production (dying and fulling), brewing or leather working. Burnt mounds are often found in relatively isolated locations in Scotland, but in Shetland they sometimes occur in association with settlement remains.

The proximity of this group of three burnt mounds to another burnt mound, just 70m to the northeast, is interesting when compared with the single, isolated examples more common elsewhere. These monuments do not survive in isolation, but were and are part of a wider contemporary landscape of settlement and land-use.

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 prehistoric society and the construction and use of burnt mounds, and their placing in the landscape. The good preservation of the monument and its proximity to a second burnt mound, 70m to the northwest, enhance this potential. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric domestic and ritual practice, both in Shetland and Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as Skelberry, burnt mound(s), HU31NE8, Canmore ID 541. Shetland Amenity Trust Sites and Monuments Record records the site as Skelberry, MonUID MSN599 (PrefRef599).

Photographs Used

SH/244 Skelberry, burnt mounds

References

RCAHMS 1946, Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland, volume 3, 43.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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