Ancient Monuments

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Orbister, prehistoric house 230m SSE of

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.4724 / 60°28'20"N

Longitude: -1.4333 / 1°25'59"W

OS Eastings: 431259

OS Northings: 1176649

OS Grid: HU312766

Mapcode National: GBR Q1T1.VB2

Mapcode Global: XHD1Q.Q1TK

Entry Name: Orbister, prehistoric house 230m SSE of

Scheduled Date: 9 April 1975

Last Amended: 26 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3471

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises an oval prehistoric house, adjoined by a curving wall and orthostat possibly representing the remains of an enclosure. The house is approximately 12m in diameter overall, with turf-covered walls up to 2.7m wide. The curvilinear wall extends from the NW arc of the house over a distance of 25m, and terminates in a 1m high orthostat. The monument is believed to be late Neolithic or Bronze Age in date, probably from around 3000 to 1000 BC. It is located on sloping ground at around 10m above sea level, close to the shore at the head of Hamar Voe, an arm of Ura Firth. The monument was originally scheduled in 1975 but the scheduled area was inadequate and the documentation 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. The scheduling specifically excludes a water pipeline and concrete marker, as well as the above-ground elements of all post-and-wire fencing to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The oval house is in stable condition, although much denuded of stone. It is visible as an inner and outer kerb of stones enclosing a turf-covered interior, with the wall best preserved on the W side. No entrance is discernible. On the NW side of the house, the curving line of stones terminating in an orthostat is likely to represent an enclosure, suggesting that this was a homestead with a yard. Alternatively, it may be the remains of a field wall or, conceivably, of a second building. 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 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 artefactual and ecofactual material, which can help us to build up a much fuller picture of prehistoric domestic life. There is also the potential to compare the house with the adjacent wall to determine the relationship between these features, and to ascertain how the inhabitants managed the landscape in the immediate vicinity of the house.

Contextual characteristics

This is a relatively well-preserved prehistoric house and shares characteristics with a number of broadly similar prehistoric houses in Shetland that also have evidence of adjoining buildings or enclosures. As such, this example characterises 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.

The monument's situation within the landscape further enhances its importance. Immediately outwith the scheduled area there is evidence for a field system, including a later dyke and a planticrub which may overlie other prehistoric remains. A burnt mound is located approximately 100m to the NW. Later prehistoric features in the area include a broch 260m to the NW. This monument is clearly an important element of a much wider relict landscape that 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 domestic remains in the area would help us to further our understanding of prehistoric domestic life and landuse.

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, the nature of prehistoric settlement, agriculture and landuse 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 over time. There is also excellent potential to study how this site fitted into a landscape rich in prehistoric remains. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of prehistoric domestic architecture and settlement, both in Shetland and Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Calder, C S T, 1965 'Cairns, Neolithic houses and burnt mounds in Shetland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 96, 77, No.9.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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