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Publication Account

Date 2002

Event ID 575333

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account



HU 389084 (visited 5/6/63)

This gatehouse promontory fort, excavated in 1935 [2], stands near the south end of Scatness, overlooking the West Voe of Sumburgh, across the water from Jarlshof (Ills. 4.46 and 4.47). The defences consist of two ditches with a bank, which is probably a stone wall, between them; enclosed by these is a free-standing rectangular block of masonry with an entrance passage of standard broch type in the middle of it. The north-east end of this 'gatehouse' section is a built face with no trace of any further wall crossing the rest of the promontory which seems to be defended only by the ditches. The other end of the gatehouse is not so clearly defined and runs to the edge of the promontory.

Two large mural cells, one with a door into the entrance passage and the other opening to the interior, are on either side of the passage and there are traces of a third on the south-west. The gatehouse is about 74 ft. long at present though it was probably longer originally. It varies in width from 18 ft. 6 ins. to 21 ft. The entrance was equipped with door- checks and bar-holes and some lintels are still in position.

It can be argued that there must have been a wall joining the gatehouse to the north edge of the cliff promontory, although no traces now remain of it, for otherwise the structure could be easily by-passed by attackers once the outer defences had been crossed. Two carved stone discs seem to have been found on the site in about 1882 [2, 297].

In 1983 a trench was cut through the bank between the two ditches of the outer defences, near the north end where there is sea erosion [4, Ill. 11]. This was found to be a wall some 3.5 m wide the core of which was a mixture of dumped rubble and clay loam. There were no finds.

This kind of defence work is sometimes known as a 'blockhouse fort' but the term 'gatehouse' is preferred here. The evidence from Clickhimin (HU44 1) shows that the rectangular buildings were probably not designed as free-standing blockhouses but as a thicker part of the primary wall which contained the entrance passage.

Finds from 1935: only pottery was found (now in Lerwick Museum) but no drawings were published. Several wares were briefly described, with one photograph [3, fig. 5], including one vessel with a black burnished surface. The material was examined again by the 1983 excavators of Scatness (HU30 3) but the report was not published.

Sources: 1. OS card no. HU30 NE 2: 2. J.A. Smith 1883: 3. Mowbray 1936 (no plan): 4. RCAHMS 1946, vol. 3, no. 1154, 34-6 and figs. 502 and 505-8 (inc. plan): 5. Carter, McCullagh and MacSween 1996, 446-47 (inc. cross section of outer wall).

E W MacKie 2002

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