Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Turness, burnt mound 180m north east of Babsies

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2765 / 60°16'35"N

Longitude: -1.1525 / 1°9'8"W

OS Eastings: 446978

OS Northings: 1154998

OS Grid: HU469549

Mapcode National: GBR R1HK.YCG

Mapcode Global: XHF9C.DYSS

Entry Name: Turness, burnt mound 180m NE of Babsies

Scheduled Date: 9 April 1975

Last Amended: 26 September 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3661

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: burnt mound

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a substantial burnt mound, visible as an upstanding crescent-shaped earthwork measuring about 13m SW-NE by 7m transversely and standing up to 1.5m high. The burnt mound is likely to date to between 2000 and 1000 BC. The monument lies at around 15m above sea level on a low ridge that separates the West Voe of Skellister (190m to the N) and the East Voe of Skellister (150m to the SE). The monument is situated about 140m from the sea and its position gives good views NE over South Nesting Bay. The monument was first scheduled in 1975, but 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 the above-ground elements of the post-and-wire fence that crosses the scheduled area to allow for its maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Burnt mounds are made from heaps of burnt and fire-cracked stone, occurring usually within a matrix of dark soil and perhaps charcoal or ash. The stones represent the waste product from the use of hot stones to heat water, probably for a variety of purposes. After several immersions, the stones would crack and break and were discarded to form burnt mounds. Burnt mounds are often accompanied by troughs that held the water and there is sometimes evidence for associated shelters and the hearths in which the stones were heated. Troughs are usually set in the ground and lined with wood, stone or clay. Burnt mounds typically lie close to a stream or other water source, as in this case.

This monument survives in good condition as an upstanding, largely turf-covered mound. It has excellent field characteristics and shows the classic crescent shape typical of burnt mounds. A small area of erosion at the SW corner of the mound confirms that, beneath the turf, it is composed of small fragments of stone typical of burnt mound material. There is potential for a trough to survive to the SE of the mound and records suggest that a well existed 7.5m to the N. This monument has good potential to inform our understanding of the date and nature of burnt mounds, their function(s) and duration. It may contain artefacts or ecofacts that can increase our understanding of the function of burnt mounds and how they were used. The mound may have accumulated directly on an old ground surface and may seal important environmental information that could increase our knowledge of the landscape and land-use before and during the mound's creation.

Contextual characteristics

There are around 1,900 recorded examples of burnt mounds in Scotland with notable concentrations in some areas, including Shetland. The greater number in Shetland may also reflect increased survival because of a lack of later development or agricultural improvement. Burnt mounds in the Northern and Western Isles and northern Scotland are often particularly large. They are often a classic crescent shape and may have been reused on many occasions over a significant period. They may also have served different social and practical functions to smaller mounds.

In Scotland, excavated examples typically date to the middle Bronze Age, around 1500 BC, but the overall range of dates varies from the late Neolithic through to the early historic period (around 2400 BC to AD 900). A common interpretation of these monuments in Scotland is that they were used to boil water for cooking. However, researchers have also suggested that they could have been used as saunas or sweat-lodges (possibly medicinal as well as sanitary); as baths; or for textile production (dying and fulling), brewing or leather working. Burnt mounds are often found in relatively isolated locations in Scotland, but in Shetland they sometimes occur in association with settlement remains.

A variety of other monuments in the vicinity demonstrate use of the surrounding landscape during prehistory. Other burnt mounds lie 390m to the SW and 1.2km to the W; there are homesteads 850m to the SW and 1.2km to the W; and two round cairns and a heel-shaped cairn cluster about 2km to the SW. There is considerable potential to study this burnt mound in its landscape context and to investigate whether it was sited close to, or away from, foci of contemporary domestic activity.

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 prehistoric society and the construction and use of burnt mounds and their placing in the landscape. The good preservation of the monument, which retains its form to a marked degree, enhances this potential. The loss of this monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of later prehistoric domestic and ritual practice in Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HU45NE 3. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN1019 (PrefRef 979).

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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