I visited the Shetland Isles in the summer of 2015. The islands are notable for the number of Neolithic house remains, a multi occupied site known as Jarlshof and an interesting so called Stanydale “temple,” a roofed building which was possibly a community hall or religious gathering site. There are strange burnt mounds and cairns, most of which I did not see because of my limited time there. Best easy book on the subject is Prehistoric and Viking Shetland by Noel Fojut. Here are some of the sites I saw in alphabetical order. If you click on the photos they will become larger.
Brochs are Iron age circular towers 100 BC to 100 AD. Probably defensive, though it is not clear why it was suddenly necessary to build them. There is often a circular wall round them. This is just a long distance shot of a ruined broch, now on an island in a lake. For a rebuilt broch go to Moussa broch. This is on Moussa island and you can actually go inside.
If you are short of time there is a broch within walking distance from the centre of Lerwick – Clickimin (HU 464 4080) which is worth seeing.
This is the site that is on everybody’s tour of the Shetland mainland. Well worth it, too. It is a site that was occupied from Neolithic times onward. The photos show the first neolithic house (left) , 2500-1500 BC, and the later bronze age building, 800 BC, which was a metal working smithy (lower left). Unless they just worked copper, they would have needed to import tin – perhaps from as far away as Cornwall.
On the right is the next building in time – the outside wall of a broch (upper right) 100 BC-100 AD. Then a very well preserved wheelhouse (lower right) 200-300 AD. Wheelhouses have a roof supported by dry stone walled piers arranged like the spoke of a wheel. You can see the piers in the photo which was taken from the roof. The use of stone meant a minimum of wood was required.
Later the site was occupied by the Vikings – there are remains of their long houses. Then a medieval farm was on the site.
And finally a Scottish laird built his posh house on it, partly covering the site of the broch. That too is a ruin now.
Jarlshof is no 25, in Prehistoric and Viking Shetland.
The best preserved broch, iron age tower, in the Shetlands. Well worth making the effort to see it as you can go inside and walk up the circular stair (on the inside of the tower) to the top. Was it a look out? A defensive structure? A posh house for the clan leader? Why did they suddenly have to build these huge defensive structures in 100 BC to 100 AD? Inside the stairs were wooden beams holding up six circular galleries. On the floor of the broch is a rock tank for water and a hearth. Many, if not all, brochs had a village surrounding them – see Gurness broch on the Orkney page. There’s a ferry boat from the mainland. Stormy petrels, tiny little birds that fly out and in only at dusk and dawn, net in the stonework and in the stone walls on the island. If you listen carefully and silently you may hear them purring on their nests. No 105 in Prehistoric and Viking Shetland.
A standing stone near the road just near the Tingwall loch which has a little mound on it. This is where the Ting, the thing, the law assembly for Shetland, was held by the Vikings but excavations suggest nothing much remains. Later the Ting was held in the church nearby. Until the 18th century there were said to be large stones there on which the people sat. Not impossible. Stones, sometimes prehistoric ones, were used as assembly points (see the Kiftsgate Stone in Gloucestershire, a moot stone) or stones used for crowning kings (the stone of Scoon or the King Stone in Kingston). The record is here.
Not far from Stanydale (below) is the site of a Neolithic houses, enclosures and ruined cairn
It is a whole neolithic landscape which you can see if you walk to the top of the hill (where the notice board is) and look downwards.
This is the Stonehenge of the Shetlands – an exceptionally large Neolithic house, easily twice as big as some of the neolithic oval houses nearby (see photo on the right). We know it was probably roofed because there are two post holes in the centre of the building. As Shetland is, and presumably was, almost without trees, these holes may have held tree trunks that washed up on the shoreland. Pottery from here suggests it was in use from the late Neolithic through the Bronze Age. Number 18 in Prehistoric and Viking Shetland.