Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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King's Knowe, ring cairn and prehistoric house 380m south of Vestinore

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland South, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.0309 / 60°1'51"N

Longitude: -1.2367 / 1°14'12"W

OS Eastings: 442635

OS Northings: 1127594

OS Grid: HU426275

Mapcode National: GBR R297.20B

Mapcode Global: XHD3Y.94NG

Entry Name: King's Knowe, ring cairn and prehistoric house 380m S of Vestinore

Scheduled Date: 31 October 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13109

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: house; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: ring cairn

Location: Dunrossness

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland South

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises a prehistoric house and ring cairn, together with part of a turf-built field dyke. The house and ring cairn are believed to be late Neolithic or Bronze Age in date, in use sometime between 3000-800 BC. The field dyke may be contemporary, although there is evidence of a multi-period field system in the vicinity. The monument lies at a height of 80m above sea level, on the S slope of E-facing, rough grazing ground overlooking the Bay of Mail, the shore of which lies about 150m to the east.

The house is sub-circular in shape, measuring 6m E-W by 8m N-S, and is visible as turf and stone banks constructed amidst bedrock outcrops. The face of an inner wall is represented by the break of slope on the E side. The outer wall is not visible. The ring cairn is sited some 35m east of the house, on an exposed, steep-sided rocky knoll overlooking cliffs to the east and with extensive views to the north and south. It is roughly circular in shape, measuring 9.5m E-W by 10m transversely, with inner and outer kerbs of stones clearly discernible. A turf-built field dyke bisects the house and ring cairn. The dyke is visible as an earth bank which runs from N-S, extending far beyond the boundary of the scheduled monument in both directions. A distinct gap in the earth bank creates a pathway between the house and the ring cairn.

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. All above-ground elements of electrical power poles are specifically excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

This monument survives in good condition surrounded by closely cropped grass. Significant buried archaeological remains are likely to be preserved beneath and around the visible upstanding structures. The house offers the potential for researchers to examine how prehistoric dwellings were designed and constructed. Wall foundations, pits and floor surfaces are likely to exist beneath the turf. Chambered cairns are well-known on Shetland, but ring cairns are much less common. Ring cairns usually date from about 2500-1500 BC and frequently cover and mark one or more individual human burials. There is no obvious chamber or cist visible on the ground surface here, but this may be preserved beneath the turf covering the area of ground enclosed within the inner kerb of stones. Artefacts and ecofacts may be expected to survive that can help us understand how people lived at this site, how they farmed and used the natural environment, how they practiced burial and commemoration of the dead at specific times in prehistory, and how they exchanged goods with other groups. There is also potential to compare the house with the cairn, and with the adjacent field boundary and wider field systems, and to define the developmental sequence of these various elements of the cultural landscape.

Contextual characteristics

This monument lies within a landscape that is rich in prehistoric and later archaeological remains. Its importance is therefore enhanced because it can be compared with several nearby sites, including two other prehistoric houses, 300m to the south and 400m to the southwest. The latter house was excavated in advance of proposed quarrying activity. This excavation recovered stone tools, fragments of possible Bronze Age pottery and a fragmentary steatite vessel.

Burial cairns were commonly positioned in visible locations such as this, and often to be inter-visible with other cairns nearby. In this case, there is a chambered cairn at Know of Wilga, 1km to the SSW. In addition, there is a complex of Viking or late Norse buildings situated on a lower terrace 150m to the northeast, and the important steatite workings at Catpund lie 500m to the SSW. Together, these monuments have the potential to reveal how this piece of landscape was used over two millennia and what relationships exist between them.

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 of prehistoric settlement, ritual customs and land-use. This potential is enhanced by the survival of such apparently well-preserved examples of a house, ring cairn and field banks in close proximity, together with other prehistoric monuments nearby. The monument therefore also has the potential to improve our understanding of the distribution of settlement, the structural techniques used to build houses, changes in settlement over time, and the relationship of houses to burial cairns. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand settlement in the east of Shetland Mainland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland


No Bibliography entries for this designation

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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