Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Skellister, standing stone 320m WNW of Burns

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2785 / 60°16'42"N

Longitude: -1.1644 / 1°9'51"W

OS Eastings: 446317

OS Northings: 1155214

OS Grid: HU463552

Mapcode National: GBR R1GK.YYX

Mapcode Global: XHF9C.8X07

Entry Name: Skellister, standing stone 320m WNW of Burns

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1958

Last Amended: 26 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2035

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: standing stone

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises a standing stone likely to date to the third or second millennium BC. It is approximately 2.7m high and, at its maximum, 1.07m wide. The granite monolith is irregularly-shaped, tapers towards its top and has several quartz veins running through it. Variously sized packing stones are partly visible around its base, indicating that evidence may survive for its date and method of erection. The standing stone is located in a prominent position with extensive views to north, south and east. It stands on the SE shoulder of Hill of Skellister on rough grazing and among rocky outcrops, at approximately 40m above sea level, overlooking South Nesting Bay to the east. The monument was first scheduled in 1958 but the documentation does not meet modern standards; the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan, measuring 15m in diameter. The scheduling includes 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 standing stone survives in good condition overall. Several packing stones are visible at its base, helping to keep it in an upright position and indicating that the monolith was placed in a pit when first erected. This relatively undisturbed context suggests that archaeological deposits are likely to survive in buried horizons around and at its base. The lack of surviving monoliths in the immediate location suggests this was an isolated standing stone and not necessarily part of a larger monument. It may, however, have been incorporated into a wider landscape of contemporary sites.

Contextual characteristics

Standing stones are widespread in Scotland, which indicates that prehistoric people occupied much of the country, stretching from the south and southwest to the Northern Isles. Individually, they are often part of a much larger, wider system of monuments (such as henges, stone circles and cairns) and these often take advantage of natural routeways and vantage points. In this case, eastward views from the stone are impressive and its position, like so many other examples, is below the locally high ground (in this case to the northwest at Hill of Skellister) and away from summits. It appears to command more views eastwards and this suggests the importance of its position. Researchers have charted the alignment of standing stones with celestial bodies and events. They believe that standing stones such as this formed part of important ceremonial or religious events, for instance, the marking of changes in season or times in the agricultural year. Like other significant examples, the effort required to transport and erect this monolith would have been substantial. The presence of local outcrops with a similar geological structure, however, suggests that the quarry for the monolith may have been close by. Whether erected from local material or brought in from afar, its presence and position indicates something of the importance of the locale and its capacity to inform our understanding of the period. It may have the potential to further our knowledge of contemporary ceremonial and ritual landscapes.

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 the ritual and ceremonial landscape of Shetland in the third or second millennium BC. Its loss would significantly impede our ability to understand the nature of earlier prehistoric ritual and ceremonial practice, as well as the wider beliefs of the prehistoric people that used these sites, both in Shetland and in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




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

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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