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Sumburgh

Cist (Period Unassigned), Inhumation(S) (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Sumburgh

Classification Cist (Period Unassigned), Inhumation(S) (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 560

Site Number HU31SE 25

NGR HU 393 106

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/560

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 25 393 106

(HU 393 106). Sumburgh, Dunrossness, Shetland. Cist. Contractors working at Sumburgh Airport uncovered human bones in July 1977 necessitating a week long emergency excavation. The site was greatly disturbed but can be reconstructed with confidence as a boulder delimited cist containing a multiple burial which had been completely disarticulated and which was accompanied by several stone beads and broken pottery of possible Beaker or Early Bronze Age date.

G A Parry 1978.

Activities

Reference (2008)

HU 393 106 Research is being undertaken on the human remains uncovered in 1977 during construction works at Sumburgh Airport. The assemblage of skeletal material consisted of the fragmented and co-mingled remains of at least 18 individuals. A bone from the assemblage was radiocarbon dated to 3235–3135 BC, making them the earliest human remains found in the Shetland Isles (Hedges and Parry 1980).

The current research is being carried out as part of a wider study of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in

Shetland that was initiated by the discovery of Mesolithic - Neolithic transition middens at West Voe, some 400m to the S of the burial site. Seven new radiocarbon dates have been obtained from the human remains, indicating that they were deposited in c3500–3000 BC, and are therefore in part contemporary with the upper of the two middens present at West Voe which was deposited in c3500–3250 BC.

The research on the Sumburgh assemblage has included an osteological reassessment and isotope analyses of bones and teeth. The former has provided a revised estimate of the number of individuals represented in the assemblage. Evidence of trauma, degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, infection, childhood periods of stress, and nutritional disorder has been noted in the skeletal assemblage. Bone fracture morphology, together with evidence of weathering, erosion and carnivore activity has been used to investigate mortuary practices.

Hedges, JW, Parry, GA 1980. A Neolithic multiple burial from Sumburgh, Shetland. Glasgow Archaeol J, 7, 15–26

Thanks to Tommy Watt and Dr Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum for providing access to the skeletal

material and for their support and advice.

Funder: Historic Scotland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and The University of Bradford

N D Melton (University of Bradford), 2008

Isotope Analysis (2009)

HU 393 106 (excavation) In 1977 the disarticulated remains of 18 individuals (10 adults, 4 juveniles, 4 neonates) and grave goods that included pottery vessels, stone beads and tools were recovered during construction works at Sumburgh Airport. A bone from the assemblage was radiocarbon-dated to c3200 cal BC, making them the earliest human remains found on Shetland (Hedges and Parry 1980). The discovery at West Voe of Mesolithic-Neolithic transition middens some 400m to the S of the cist (Melton 2004; Melton 2005) and the

dating of the uppermost midden at West Voe to c3500–3250 cal BC provided an opportunity to examine this important period, and a programme of research on the human remains was initiated.

The research has consisted of an osteological reassessment of the human remains together with an AMS radiocarbon dating programme and carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of dentine and bone collagen for dietary information (Melton 2008). This work has revealed that the cist was in use for a long period in the second half of the 4th millennium BC, and has confirmed that it was, in part, contemporary with the upper midden at West Voe. The number of individuals buried in the cist has been revised upwards to 27 and evidence of degenerative joint disease, periodontal disease and trauma has been noted in the skeletal assemblage. The carbon and nitrogen isotopes indicate both terrestrial and marine components in the Early Neolithic diet and are therefore consistent with the shell midden evidence from West Voe.

Ongoing research has focused on oxygen and strontium isotope analyses of tooth enamel and sulphur isotope

analysis of tooth dentine to provide data on the individuals’ origins. The strontium and sulphur results are both indicative of a coastal-dwelling population. Oxygen isotope analysis is underway but has been delayed due to instrument and data quality issues which have necessitated re-measurement.

Archive: 1977 excavation – RCAHMS

Funder: Historic Scotland and University of Bradford

N Melton and J Montgomery – University of Bradford

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