Ancient Monuments

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Culsetter, prehistoric house 250m west of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.3909 / 60°23'27"N

Longitude: -1.3979 / 1°23'52"W

OS Eastings: 433289

OS Northings: 1167590

OS Grid: HU332675

Mapcode National: GBR Q1X8.L5R

Mapcode Global: XHD24.6391

Entry Name: Culsetter, prehistoric house 250m W of

Scheduled Date: 20 August 1974

Last Amended: 19 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3480

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house

Location: Delting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a substantial prehistoric house, dating probably to between 3000 and 1000 BC. The house is visible as an oval turf-covered bank with protruding stones. The site lies 750m from the W coast of Mainland. It stands 45m above sea level on ground that slopes southeast to a freshwater loch, Bays Water, and where a small burn flows north from the loch to the sea. The monument was first scheduled in 1974 but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The house is hollowed out of the SE-facing slope, with its entrance in the SE, where the wall is notably straighter than elsewhere. Externally, it measures some 19m NW-SE by 13m transversely. Its wall bank is around 3m wide on the NE side but narrower elsewhere, and there are several large protruding stones. Its SE end. Roughly one-third of the way from the NW end, the house appears to have been partitioned by an internal wall, with a gap allowing access between the two 'rooms'. The NW end of the building is more deeply hollowed than the rest of the interior. Within the house are the remains of a rectangular structure, measuring around 6m by 4m and defined by low banks about 1m wide, which appears to be secondary to the oval house. A bank extends for 8m from the SE end of the house, perhaps suggesting a forecourt or yard.

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

The monument survives in excellent condition and its upstanding elements can easily be appreciated and analysed. This is clearly the site of a very large and well-preserved prehistoric house. Future examination of the remains of the building could provide detailed information about its date, form and construction, and investigation of the interior could contribute to our understanding of how such structures 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, the extent and nature of trade and exchange, and the nature of the agricultural economy. Pollen and other environmental analyses can indicate the character of the contemporary landscape and provide evidence for how the inhabitants managed and farmed the land. This site has a clear development sequence and there is the potential to compare the dating and functions of the house and its partition, the rectangular structure within it and the bank extending outwards to the SE.

Contextual characteristics

The shape and dimensions of this building invite comparison with the building known as Stanydale temple, a large heel-shaped building that measures 20m by 16m externally, 13m by 9m internally, with massive drystone walls about 3.5m thick. The building at Stanydale, which lies 17 km to the SSW, was partly excavated by archaeologists in 1949. The house at Culsetter is almost as large as the Stanydale structure, and the near-straight SE wall at the entrance of the house suggests similarities in form as well. The Stanydale building had alcoves at the NW end but nowhere else, and the division of this house suggests that the use of the space in the two structures may have been similar. Although researchers now stress the Stanydale building's resemblance to typical, but much smaller, Shetland prehistoric houses, they also continue to highlight the similarity of its plan to that of Shetland's heel-shaped chambered cairns. Moreover, the size of the building, the substantial resources needed to build and roof it, and its resemblance in shape to heel-shaped cairns, all suggest that it had a special function and status, whether ritual or communal. The size and form of the Culsetter building also suggest it may have had an unusual, possibly communal, function.

There are several other known prehistoric sites in close proximity to this house, including a heel-shaped cairn 285m to the SE, and other prehistoric houses 115m and 305m to the SE; the three houses are positioned almost exactly in line. There is potential to make detailed comparisons between the evidence recovered from these various sites. For example, all three houses appear to have adjoining banks that may represent forecourts or elaborate entrances. The number of structures means that a long development sequence is possible and the monument has excellent potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of prehistoric houses and cairns, how their use changed over time and the relationships between them. There is also potential to compare the prehistoric archaeology with post-medieval buildings, mills and field systems that also survive in the vicinity.

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 the nature of settlement, agriculture and commemoration of the dead in prehistoric Shetland. Its significance is enhanced because two other houses and a heel-shaped cairn in the immediate vicinity mean that the monument can contribute to research into the relationships between several potentially related structures. The house is also important for its resemblance to the structure known as the Stanydale Temple in west Mainland, the scale of the two buildings making them extremely rare. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the prehistory of Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as part of HU36NW 4 (Canmore ID 796). The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR records the site as MSN459 (PrefRef 459).


Calder, C S T, 1958 'Stone Age house-sites in Shetland' in PSAS, 89, 364-6.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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