Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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South Unigarth, souterrain

A Scheduled Monument in West Mainland, Orkney Islands

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Latitude: 59.0369 / 59°2'12"N

Longitude: -3.3149 / 3°18'53"W

OS Eastings: 324639

OS Northings: 1017392

OS Grid: HY246173

Mapcode National: GBR L45V.B8H

Mapcode Global: WH69N.14S2

Entry Name: South Unigarth, souterrain

Scheduled Date: 18 February 1964

Last Amended: 26 March 2014

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2399

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: souterrain, earth-house

Location: Sandwick

County: Orkney Islands

Electoral Ward: West Mainland

Traditional County: Orkney


The monument comprises a souterrain (sometimes called an earth-house in Orkney), a subterranean structure built of stone and earth, dating probably from the Iron Age (between about 800 BC and 300 AD). The souterrain was identified during the installation of an electricity pole in 1958. The monument is not visible on the ground surface, but survives as an underground chamber and entrance passage, excavated into soft decayed rock. The sub-rectangular chamber measures approximately 3.6m by 3m and is 0.8m high at the centre. The roof is formed of stone slabs supported on an off-centre orthostat and a further seven peripheral orthostats. The entrance passage lies possibly to the S of the chamber and is reported to be 2.7m long and 0.9m wide. The monument is situated on low-lying agricultural land between the Loch of Skaill and the Loch of Clumly, at 25m above sea level, overlooking the Loch of Skaill to the N. The monument was originally scheduled in 1964, but the documentation did not meet modern standards: the present amendment rectifies this.

The scheduled area is square on plan, with sides measuring 18m. It includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of an electricity pole and all post-and-wire fences to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance because it has the inherent potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular, the dating, design, construction and function of souterrains and their significance to Iron Age communities in Orkney. The monument has high potential to enhance our understanding of later prehistoric society, its organisation, economy, religion and demography. In particular, it has high potential to add to our understanding of the agricultural basis of Iron Age settlements in Orkney and the storage and management of surpluses. It is highly likely that the monument retains most of its original form below ground: records indicate that the chamber and entrance passage are substantially intact. There is significant potential for the monument to preserve important evidence of the domestic and agricultural function of souterrains, and to clarify whether they also had a ritual or ceremonial function. As souterrains are often found in association with earlier, contemporary and later structures, there is also high potential for the preservation of other prehistoric remains in the immediate vicinity and surrounding landscape. The loss of this monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the significance of souterrains and their placing in the landscape.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HY21NW 29.


Carruthers, M 2007, 'The Cairns, Windwick Bay, Orkney (South Ronaldsay parish), excavation', Discovery Excav Scot, 8.

Carruthers, M 2013, 'The Cairns. From broch builders to Viking traders', Current Archaeology 275, 20-25.

Cruden, S 1958, 'South Unigarth earth house, Mainland, Orkney', Discovery Excav Scot 39.

Moore, H and Wilson, G 2005, 'Langskaill, Orkney (Westray parish), Iron Age settlement; Norse settlement', Discovery Excav Scot 6, 101.

Ritchie, G and Ritchie, A 1991, Scotland: Archaeology and Early History, a general introduction. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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