Ancient Monuments

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Stanydale, settlement, field system and cairns 620m ENE of Pund of Lea

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland West, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2348 / 60°14'5"N

Longitude: -1.4865 / 1°29'11"W

OS Eastings: 428538

OS Northings: 1150172

OS Grid: HU285501

Mapcode National: GBR Q1PP.7LM

Mapcode Global: XHD2W.10CM

Entry Name: Stanydale, settlement, field system and cairns 620m ENE of Pund of Lea

Scheduled Date: 5 December 1973

Last Amended: 26 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3314

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: field or field system; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cairn (t

Location: Sandsting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland West

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of at least five prehistoric buildings, including the structure known as 'Stanydale Temple', set within a complex of enclosures and field boundaries. It also includes six standing stones, four burial cairns and at least 82 clearance cairns. The buildings, field banks and cairns are visible as upstanding earthworks, but the monument also includes associated buried archaeological features. The remains are most likely to be later Neolithic or Bronze Age in date (approximately 3500 to 800 BC). The buildings lie on undulating ground between 20m and 50m above sea level in the basin of a small burn that drains SE. Three of the four burial cairns lie at least 50m above sea level on a ridge known as Hamars that overlooks the head of Scutta Voe some 400m to the SW. The monument was first scheduled in 1973 but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The 'Stanydale Temple' is a large heel-shaped building that was partially excavated by archaeologists in 1949. It measures 20m by 16m externally, 13m by 9m internally, with massive drystone walls that are about 3.5m thick. The long axis is aligned ESE-WNW and the entrance is to the E, giving access through a carefully built concave fa├žade. The building has been partially restored and its walls stand around 1.5m high. Inside, there are six alcoves at the inner (western) end, symmetrically arranged and separated by stone piers. There is no central hearth, but a series of peripheral hearths, no longer visible. The internal wall is faced with huge stone slabs, some estimated to weigh over 0.3 tonnes each. In addition to this exceptionally large structure, there are four oval prehistoric houses, two close to the 'temple' (50m S and 60m WNW) and two slightly further away (210m WSW and 245m ESE). The houses are visible as spread oval earth and stone banks, measuring up to 16m by 9m externally, enclosing interiors measuring up to 10m by 6m. The house furthest E was excavated at the same time as the 'temple' and now has the most pronounced visible remains. The structure has a porch beyond the entrance at the SSE end, two recesses and an inner chamber at the W end, and a hearth approximately in the centre. In addition to the four houses, a further prehistoric structure of unknown type lies 30m NNE of the 'temple', adjacent to a field bank. It is visible as a low mound measuring 5m by 3m, with several orthostats protruding through the turf.

The buildings lie within the area of a field system that is irregular in shape and covers at least 500m N-S by 190m transversely. One relatively early component is a sub-circular enclosure, 55m in diameter, which lies close to the most westerly building. Later additions are a similar-sized enclosure to the W, within which the building lies, and a much larger, approximately oval enclosure to the E, measuring 240m N-S by 170m transversely, and containing the 'temple' and two other houses. Parts of several other boundaries are also visible, often disappearing under peat deposits, and these suggest there is a second large field to the E. These enclosure or field walls are characterised by mainly turf-covered stone banks or lines of isolated stones. There are numerous clearance cairns, mostly located within enclosures or fields suggested by the banks.

Six standing stones, set in an irregular arc 8m-12m apart, lie some 15m to 35m S of the 'temple'. The four burial cairns lie 100m-160m apart on high ground to the S of the settlement. The highest lies on a rocky knoll on the summit of Hamars and is visible as a broad, curving stony bank on the NW side of the knoll, defining an area 6m in diameter. Ordnance Survey maps record the site of a cairn 20m further south, where no upstanding remains are visible. The second is visible as a circular area of stones, 7m in diameter, about 90m WNW of the summit of Hamars. A third lies on a rocky knoll 110m SE of the summit, and is visible as a pile of stones measuring 6m in diameter and 0.4m high, with stones on edge at the centre perhaps representing the remains of a chamber. The fourth lies down slope, 160m ENE of the third, and is visible as a turf-covered mound 2.5m in diameter and 0.3m high.

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 the above-ground elements of all post-and-wire fences, gates, signs and information boards 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 structure that has become known as the 'Stanydale Temple' is remarkable because of its great size. It was named because, at the time of its discovery, it was considered similar to a group of ritual sites in Malta. However, researchers now look to Shetland for parallels and influences, stressing its resemblance to the typical, though much smaller, Shetland prehistoric houses with their oval shape and alcoves. They also highlight the similarity of the plan to Shetland's heel-shaped chambered cairns. The 1949 excavations produced evidence for a roof supported on two central posts of spruce, a timber then available from Scandinavia or North America but not Scotland. They also recovered a range of artefacts, including late Neolithic pottery and stone tools and smaller fragments of early Bronze Age pottery. The size of the building, the resources needed to roof it and the resemblance in shape to heel-shaped cairns all suggest that this building had a special function and status, perhaps ritual or communal.

Future examination of the remains of the 'temple' and other buildings can give us detailed information about their form and construction, while investigation of building interiors can contribute to our understanding of how 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 analysis may give indications of species that grew across different parts of the field system, producing evidence for how these fields and the surrounding areas were used and managed. The burial cairns can tell us about commemoration of the dead and there is clear potential to investigate the relationship between the cairns and the nearby houses.

The monument survives in excellent condition and its upstanding elements can easily be appreciated and analysed. The number of structures, the variety and complexity of the enclosures and comparison with excavated settlements nearby all suggest that this settlement had a long development sequence, probably being modified and reused over an extended time period. This means that the monument has excellent potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of prehistoric settlements and cairns and of how their use changed over time.

Contextual characteristics

The monument lies within a landscape that is rich in known prehistoric remains, including several clusters of prehistoric houses, some of which have been excavated. This gives excellent potential to assess the settlement's place in the landscape of West Mainland, enhancing its importance. There are four prehistoric houses and a field system just 300m to the SW, on the far side of Hamars. On the opposite shore of the Voe of Browland at Pinhoulland, 2.5 km to the west, at least eight house sites are set within a complex of enclosures and field boundaries that also includes a probable multi-phase burial cairn in an elevated position. Traces of boulder walls extend northwards from Pinhoulland for 2km, as far as the settlement at Scord of Brouster and beyond. Researchers interpret these as forming part of a rough grid pattern that subdivided the wider landscape in the prehistoric period, its three long axes aligned N-S and 200m to 300m apart. This extensive field system seems to be laid out without regard for contours, but is largely parallel to the W shore of the voe. The three prehistoric houses at the Scord of Brouster have been excavated and provide excellent comparative evidence for the nature and construction of Neolithic and Bronze Age buildings and the practice of contemporary agriculture. Three burial cairns exist on the E side of the voe, 1km N of this monument, and another group of four cairns lies 3km to the WNW. Although the 'Stanydale Temple' appears to draw on the design of Shetland's prehistoric houses and heel-shaped cairns, the structure's size makes it a unique building and raises the possibility that the settlement at Stanydale had particular status and importance in the late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

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 the close association of houses, field boundaries and cairns means that it can support research into the relationships between these structures. There is also excellent potential to make comparisons with nearby settlements and to study how the site fitted into a landscape that is rich in prehistoric remains. The large structure known as the 'Stanydale Temple' is without parallel in Shetland or elsewhere and appears to represent a unique type of Neolithic communal building. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the prehistory of Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Calder, C S T, 1952 'Report on the excavation of a Neolithic temple at Stanydale in the Parish of Sandsting, Shetland', PSAS 84, 185-205.

Calder, C S T, 1958 'Stone Age house sites in Shetland', PSAS 89, 340-3.

Edwards, K J and Whittington, G, 1998 'Landscape and environment in prehistoric West Mainland, Shetland'. Landscape History, 20, 5-17.

Fojut, N, 1993 A Guide to Prehistoric and Viking Shetland, Lerwick.

Ritchie, A, 1997 Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Orkney and Shetland, Edinburgh.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Stanydale Temple
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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