Ancient Monuments

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Tur Ness, prehistoric houses and Norse settlement, Uyea

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.6709 / 60°40'15"N

Longitude: -0.8803 / 0°52'48"W

OS Eastings: 461287

OS Northings: 1199149

OS Grid: HU612991

Mapcode National: GBR S05J.P7F

Mapcode Global: XHF7Q.Z13V

Entry Name: Tur Ness, prehistoric houses and Norse settlement, Uyea

Scheduled Date: 5 July 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13077

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house; Secular: Viking settlement, Norse settlement

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises three prehistoric houses of different types, built probably between 3000 BC and AD 500, and one Norse longhouse with a yard, dating probably to between AD 800 and 1300. All four houses are visible as low turf-covered banks. The monument lies about 10m above sea level on Tur Ness, a promontory at the NE corner of Uyea Island that looks north to Unst across the Skuda Sound. The site has access to two small bays, facing north and south respectively.

The northernmost prehistoric house lies 45m from the northern tip of the promontory. It measures around 10.5m NW-SE by 9.5m transversely, enclosing an interior area of 5.5m by 4.5m. The house is approximately sub-triangular with its entrance at the wider SE end. The walls are represented by banks up to 1m high. An internal wall face of large upright stones is visible intermittently. A second house lies 50m to the SSE and is almost circular in shape. It is around 12m in diameter externally and its wall banks stand up to 0.8m high. The interior measures about 6.5m in diameter and a cell is visible against the N wall, faced with upright stones. The position of the entrance is not clear, but may be in the west. A third house, located 80m to the WSW, is oval in shape with external dimensions of 13m E-W by 12m transversely. Several large stones protrude through the turf in the interior, including at least one upright stone. Some facing stones are visible around the walls, including several large kerb stones on either side of the entrance. The entrance faces west towards the beach, but is protected by three further upright stones externally. Beyond is a front yard, measuring about 8m E-W by 4m transversely, defined by low turf-covered banks.

The Norse longhouse lies 55m SE of this third prehistoric house. It is aligned NE-SW, with an entrance down slope at the SW end. The house has external dimensions of around 20m by 6m, and its walls are 0.9m wide and stand 0.3m-0.6m high. Stone wall faces are visible in places, for example on the NE wall. No internal partitions or other features are visible on the ground surface, but the floor level is very slightly higher at the NE end of the building. A possible sub-rectangular yard lies north of the house. It measures some 45m NE-SW by 25m transversely and is defined by a low turf bank.

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

This monument survives in excellent condition and significant buried archaeological remains are expected to be preserved beneath and around the visible upstanding structures. Trial trenches were excavated across two of the prehistoric houses in the 19th century, but these investigations are considered to have had limited impact on the buried archaeology. The four buildings continue to offer high potential for researchers to examine how prehistoric and Norse houses were designed and constructed, and how they functioned. Wall foundations, pits and floor surfaces are likely to exist beneath the turf. The buried remains are likely to include artefacts and ecofacts that can help us understand how people lived at this site, how they farmed and used the natural environment, and how they exchanged goods with other groups. The three prehistoric houses have different plan forms, and offer the potential to compare building types. These houses may represent a development sequence and could show how settlement changed and evolved over time. Researchers may be able to date some of the buried remains and determine whether the prehistoric occupation of the site was broken by one or more periods of disuse. There is also potential to compare prehistoric activities with those undertaken in the Norse period, including ascertaining how the respective inhabitants managed this island landscape and their relationship with the sea. There is potential to determine how agriculture and domestic economies differed over time and how the soils were managed and improved.

Contextual characteristics

This monument lies within a landscape that is rich in prehistoric archaeological remains and its importance is enhanced because it can be compared with several nearby funerary sites. A heel-shaped chambered cairn lies 1.4km to the WNW and another chambered cairn lies 1.35m to the WNW. Another cairn, lying 1.25km to the SW, was excavated in 1860 and found to contain a grave. Together, these monuments can enhance our knowledge of how the island of Uyea was used in prehistory, how the land-use developed over time, and the chronological and functional relationships between them. The Norse longhouse is similar to many examples in Unst, including at Belmont, Haroldswick, Underhoull and Gardie. Its dimensions are very similar to those of the excavated house at Belmont, the latter measuring 22m long by 7m wide.

Associative characteristics

The three prehistoric houses are depicted on the OS 1st edition 6-inch map and are labelled 'Picts Houses'. This site was one of the subjects of the early investigations conducted by Hunt around 1860 as part of the 'Zetland Anthropological Expidition'.

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, in particular of prehistoric and Norse settlement and land-use. This potential is enhanced because the monument contains prehistoric houses of three different forms, as well as a Norse longhouse. It can also enhance and augment our understanding of the nearby prehistoric funerary monuments. It has the potential to improve our understanding of the distribution of prehistoric settlement, the structural techniques used to build houses, changes in settlement over time, and the relationship of houses to other features such as cairns. The longhouse is of particular interest as one of a number of Norse longhouses known in Unst, but apparently the only one located on this smaller island. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand prehistoric and Norse settlement in Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU69NW 2 and HU69NW 11. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR references are MSN318 (PrefRef 318) and MSN3516 (PrefRef 3470).


RCAHMS 1946 Twelfth Report with an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v, Edinburgh, 145.

Tate, R 1866 'Report of Zetland Anthropological Expidition', Memoirs Anthropol Soc London, 2, 244-5.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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