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Shetland, Sumburgh, West Voe

Midden (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Shetland, Sumburgh, West Voe

Classification Midden (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 274115

Site Number HU31SE 102

NGR HU 3920 1100

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Dunrossness
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Shetland
  • Former County Shetland

Archaeology Notes

HU31SE 102 HU 3920 1100

In 2002, shells obtained from two middens exposed by coastal erosion at West Voe yielded radiocarbon dates of 4320-4030 cal BC and 3750-3520 cal BC respectively. The intervening sand layer was OSL dated at 4830±430 BC. Small samples were obtained from each of the middens and analysis of these revealed the earlier to be composed of oysters, with smaller numbers of limpets, mussels and razor shells, along with cetacean, seal and seabird bones. The later midden was composed entirely of cockles and appeared to butt a structure.

In an archaeological evaluation undertaken in the summer of 2004, a 7.5m section of the cliff face was cleaned and the earlier midden was sampled over this length. It was found to consist of a basal layer of oyster shells overlain by a layer composed of limpets and the bones of sea birds and seals. At the northern end of the section, the midden deposits were sealed by an occupation surface of crushed mussel shells. Finds associated with this surface include quartz flakes and a few potsherds.

A c 0.6m thick layer of sand sealed the earlier midden and occupation surface. A sequence of pits and a linear feature had been cut into this sand, all pre-dating the construction of a wall (the structure noted in 2002; DES 2002, 109) that was 0.65m wide and survived to a height of 0.55m. The wall was butted on its left-hand side by the c 0.4m thick cockle midden. To the right of the wall was a build-up of dune sand within which was a layer of fragmented cockles that also included a cow tooth. The wall and cockle midden were sealed by c 1m of dune sand, that was in turn sealed by an anthropogenic soil and a thick sequence of dune sands.

Sponsors: HS, Natural Environment Research Council, Malakoff Ltd, Scotair Properties Ltd.

N D Melton 2004

HU 3920 1100 Further excavation was carried out on the site of the Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic middens (DES 2004, 118). Work in 2005 concentrated on the vicinity of the northern boundary of the Late Mesolithic midden, and focused on the examination of an activity surface formed from trampled mussel shells that had been identified in 2004; the definition of the edge of the midden; seeking evidence of off-midden activity; and sampling the Holocene deposit sealed by the midden.

The 2005 excavation confirmed the stratigraphic sequence within the midden that had been observed in 2004. In this sequence, a succession of targeted species was present: initially oysters, then limpets, seals and sea birds, and finally mussels. The trampled activity surface was found to be c 1.8m wide. It did not quite extend to the northern edge of the midden, so that at this point the uppermost surface of the midden consisted of a c 0.6m wide band of limpet shells. The final phase of use of the midden, sealing the activity surface, consisted of a small deposit of stones and mussel shells. A small area of trampled and complete mussel shells was present 2.5m to the N of the main midden.

Finds in 2005 include further examples of quartz cores and flakes. They include a core formed from a fragment of a rose-coloured quartzite beach pebble and a flake that had been struck from it. In addition to the various species of marine shells, large numbers of seal and sea bird bones were also recovered.

The underlying Holocene deposit was traced for a considerable distance around the W side of West Voe, but no further evidence of early human activity was noted.

Sponsors: HS, Prehistoric Society, Scotair Properties Ltd.

N D Melton 2005


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