Ancient Monuments

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Houlland, prehistoric house 320m east of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2714 / 60°16'16"N

Longitude: -1.1635 / 1°9'48"W

OS Eastings: 446376

OS Northings: 1154424

OS Grid: HU463544

Mapcode National: GBR R1GL.KHD

Mapcode Global: XHF9K.83C4

Entry Name: Houlland, prehistoric house 320m E of

Scheduled Date: 24 December 1974

Last Amended: 17 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3588

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a prehistoric house within an enclosure and associated field remains. These survive as low stone and turf-covered banks. The monument probably dates from the later Neolithic period (approximately 3000'1500 BC). It is located on improved grassland in a low-lying hollow at around 30m above sea level. The monument was originally scheduled in 1974 but the scheduling does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

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 good condition overall. The footprint of a circular house, around 12m in diameter, is clearly visible within a sub-circular enclosure. The house is positioned approximately in the centre of the enclosure and is defined mainly by a circle of stones and a slight mound of stony debris. The enclosure is defined by a low, stony and partly turf-covered wall. It appears to have been laid out with respect to the local topography, in that it is placed on the perimeter of a slight natural hollow. Other adjacent linear stone features may be the remains of contemporary or later field walls.

Geophysical survey in the immediate area has indicated that further buried archaeological remains are likely to survive. There is potential for the buried elements of this site to contain important archaeological deposits, including artefacts, ecofacts and other environmental evidence, which could help to further our understanding of prehistoric domestic life and agricultural activity. Examination of building foundations can provide detailed information about the form and construction of prehistoric houses in Shetland, and buried features in the interior can contribute to our understanding of how houses were used and organised, and how this might change over time. Buried artefacts, ecofacts and soils can contribute to our understanding of how people lived and worked, and provide insights into trade and exchange and the nature of the agricultural economy. Archaeological investigation at similar sites has yielded high quality artefacts and environmental evidence, which can help us to reconstruct a fuller picture of prehistoric domestic life. In this case, there is also the potential to compare the date and construction of the house with the enclosure and field walls to determine the relationship between these features, and to ascertain how the inhabitants managed the landscape in the immediate vicinity of the homestead.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is a reasonably well-preserved example of an enclosed homestead. It shares characteristics with a number of broadly similar prehistoric houses in Shetland that also have adjoining evidence of enclosures and field systems. As such, this example characterises one type of early settlement and the development of agriculture in the third to second millennium BC in Shetland. It is part of a relatively rare and geographically restricted group, which gives us a more balanced view of prehistoric life, when compared with the more common and widespread burial and ceremonial monuments of the later Neolithic elsewhere in Scotland.

Traces of ploughing were recorded as part of a limited archaeological investigation of the site and its soils. Researchers have suggested that the evidence points to differing land-use regimes taking place on different parcels of land from an early date. The monument's situation within the landscape of South Nesting enhances its importance. Other homesteads are located some 800m to the northwest and 650m to the southwest. There are also burnt mounds some 700m to the northwest and 450m to the northeast. Later prehistoric features in the area include Burrian broch, only 550m to the southeast. This monument is clearly therefore an important element of a much wider relict landscape which testifies to early human efforts to exploit land and natural resources, in particular for agricultural production, over several millennia. Comparison of this site with the other prehistoric remains in the area could help us to develop a much better understanding of prehistoric domestic life and land-use.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to understanding of the past, in particular, the nature of prehistoric settlement, agriculture and land-use in Shetland. It has the potential to improve our understanding of the distribution of settlement, the structural techniques used to build houses and changes in settlement and agriculture over time. There is also excellent potential to study how the site fitted into a landscape that is rich in prehistoric remains. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of prehistoric settlement and agriculture both in Shetland and Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Calder, C S T, 1965, 'Cairns, Neolithic houses and burnt mounds in Shetland', in Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 96, 75-6

Dockrill, S J, 1991, 'South Nesting (Nesting parish): archaeological landscape, burnt mound', in Discovery Excav Scot, 75

Dockrill, S J (et al), 1991, 'The South Nesting palaeolandscape project, Shetland Islands', Univ Bradford Archaeol Sci Ann Rep, 5th annual report, 20

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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