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Beorgs Of Uyea

Quarry (Period Unassigned), Stone Axe Factory (Neol/bronze Age)

Site Name Beorgs Of Uyea

Classification Quarry (Period Unassigned), Stone Axe Factory (Neol/bronze Age)

Alternative Name(s) Mill Loch

Canmore ID 890

Site Number HU39SW 2

NGR HU 3269 9006

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2018.


Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

HU39SW 2 3269 9006

HU 327 901. A gallery which could well have been a pre- historic workshop for the production of stone tools was found and examined by Scott in 1942 and visited by Calder in 1949.

The gallery had been constructed as a trench with one side formed by an intrusive dyke of quartz-felspar-porphyry, and the opposite side and ends of dry-stone masonry, the whole being sunk just below ground level and covered by lintel stones, most of which had been displaced but through which must have been the original access.

Inside, the space measured almsot 10ft long by 2ft 2 ins to 3ft 10 ins wide, and 3ft to 3ft 9 ins high, above a layer of rock chippings 4 to 6 ins in depth which had all the appearance of waste flakes and among which were found a stone anvil, hammer-stones and cores. (The anvil and speciments of the hammers, cores and flakes have passed to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland [NMAS]. The dyke is formed of rock peculiar to this area and neolithic and other implements of this and spherulitic felsite, peculiar to the Beorgs of Uyea, have been found throughout Shetland. P R Ritchie (P R Ritchie and S Piggott 1968) states that the rock of the Beorgs of Uyea is not unique in Britain.

L G Scott and C S T Calder 1954

Situated at HU 3266 9007, this 'working gallery' is generally as described above.

Surveyed at 1:10,000.

Visited by OS(RL) 20th May 1969.

(Name: HU 3266 9007) Neolithic Axe Factory & Quarry (NR)

OS 1:10,000 map 1971.

Six complete axe 'rough-outs' of riebeckite felsite were recovered during examination of this site. A large end scraper of the same rock was also discovered.

B Beveridge 1973

One of the 'rough-outs' found by Beveridge is in Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Z. 27235).

(Undated) information in Museum Accessions Register.


Ground Survey (September 2011)

HU 326 900 (Beorgs of Uyea) and HU 316 848 (Midfield) As part of ongoing preparations for a future research project – Neolithic Felsite Quarrying in North Roe, Shetland selected areas of North Roe were inspected during September 2011. Investigations in 2010 (DES 2010, 159) had suggested that it is possible to clearly distinguish between workshops relating to the production of axeheads and Shetland knives, and one of the aims of this year’s evaluation was to identify workshops, or clusters of workshops, which might be suitable for later detailed examination and excavation. The purpose of this future work should be to shed light on: 1) felsite quarrying technology and organization; 2) felsite blank, preform and tool technology and organization; 3) felsite exchange within North Roe/Shetland, and beyond; 4) dating the prehistoric exploitation of felsite; and 5) cosmology.

As previous years’ archaeological activity in North Roe (DES 2006–7 and 2010) had shown that felsite dykes in the central parts of the peninsula may have been prospected by prehistoric people, but appeared not to have been exploited in an organized manner, the team focused on selected locations on the Beorgs of Uyea ridge (northern North Roe) and along the elongated summit of Midfield (southern North Roe). Scrutiny of axehead and knife rough-outs and production waste, as well as the different types of felsite available in the selected areas, indicates that axeheads and Shetland knives were manufactured in both locations. However, it was also possible to characterize the two areas in terms of their potential for archaeological investigation. The Beorgs of Uyea, for example, is defined by extensive exploitation, probably over a prolonged period of time, and the deposits of quarrying waste has a clear palimpsest appearance. In contrast, the Midfield summit, or ridge, is characterized by the presence of many discrete, probably single-event, workshops and clusters of workshops.

At Midfield, it was possible to define two main areas of activity, associated with two parallel felsite dykes. Midfield 1 (western dyke) is characterized by two main quarry pits and one main large workshop, probably representing repeated exploitation (although not to a degree comparable to that seen at the Beorgs), relating to combined axehead and knife production. Midfield 2 (eastern dyke), is characterized by four or five quarry pits along a felsite outcrop, with discrete, probably single-event workshops, located on either side of the dyke. The latter dyke follows the landscape contours, and workshops defined by coarse waste from axehead production were found on the E (downslope) side of the dyke, whereas workshops defined by finer waste from knife production were found on the W (upslope) side of the dyke. The Midfield 2 quarry pits and workshops provide a potential initial focus of detailed analysis, as the understanding of these more discrete activity areas may allow areas with palimpsest character to be disentangled.

It was suggested that a first season of fieldwork should concentrate on the mapping of felsite dykes, workshops and associated features in North Roe in general, as well as more detailed mapping of the felsite dyke, quarry pits and workshops at Midfield 2. Other activities relating to the project includes spot-checking in the field of felsite dykes on Muckle Roe, Delting, as it is not certain that only the North Roe Riebeckite felsite was exploited in prehistory, and the collection of raw material samples from these dykes. Axeheads and Shetland knives in felsite in museum collections are also being listed and their find locations mapped, to allow future discussion of the dissemination of these artefacts from North Roe.

Lithic Research/ University of Bradford, University College Dublin, 2011

Field Visit (May 2012)

HU 326 900 (Beorgs of Uyea) and HU 316 848 (Midfield) As part of ongoing preparations for a future research project – Neolithic Felsite Quarrying in North Roe – selected areas of North Roe were inspected during May 2012. The purpose of this future work should be to shed light on: 1) felsite quarrying technology and organisation; 2) felsite blank, preform and tool technology and organisation; 3) felsite exchange within North Roe/Shetland, and beyond; 4) dating the prehistoric exploitation of felsite; and 5) cosmology.

The purpose of this year’s visit was to gather evidence for the manufacture of stone tools using rock quarried from a suite of felsite and other dykes, particularly in the Beorgs of Uyea and Midfield areas. The particular focus was to set petrographic evidence in a framework of geomorphological, geological and archaeological evidence in the field, in order to evaluate the potential for differentiation between products from archaeological sites and geological outcrops.

The work had two sets of results: 1) providing answers to the questions defined prior to the survey (above), and 2) as a by-product of the geological work, finding and defining new archaeological locations in the Midfield area. Following geological characterization of the inspected felsite outcrops and the collected hand samples, it was possible to preliminarily conclude that it should be possible to link individual felsite artefacts to specific geological outcrops or, at least, limited suites of dykes. This is of great importance to future discussions of the distribution of felsite artefacts across Shetland (felsite was probably not ‘exported’ out of the Shetland archipelago), felsite exchange, and social organisation within the island group.

As mentioned in DES 2011 (173) two clusters of felsite workshops are known on Midfield’s eastern flank, both associated with groups of quarry pits. This year, another group of quarry pits was located, this time on the northern flanks of Midfield, towards Ronas Hill. This site (Midfield 3) needs further attention before it is possible to say anything about specific activities, workshops, or the type of artefacts produced. To access the Midfield sites, it was necessary to cross Uyea Scord from Collafirth Hill. When crossing this plateau, two small concentrations of artefacts were noticed, and the finds collected. The composition of one assemblage was c1:10 quartz to felsite flakes, whereas the other had the opposite composition. The important points regarding these two collections are: 1) that there is generally no quartz near the quarries themselves, and 2) that the recovered felsite flakes are small and fine, possibly relating to what Vemming Hansen and Madsen (1983) termed final shaping, in contrast to the production of rough-outs and preforms, which took place at the quarry workshops. This possible spatial separation of the different stages of the reduction of felsite axeheads needs further investigation, and the plateau of Scord of Uyea should be surveyed in greater detail.

Fieldwork in the Midfield area is planned for Spring/Summer 2013. The principal investigator of this work is Professor Gabriel Cooney, University College Dublin.

Archive: RCAHMS and/or Shetland Amenity Trust (intended)

Torben Bjarke Ballin, Lithic Research/University of Bradford

Vin Davis, Implement Petrology Group


Field Visit (June 2013 - July 2013)

HU 326 900 (Beorgs of Uyea) and HU 327 850 (Grut Wells) Building on previous years’ work in North Roe led by Ballin (DES 2013, 167-8) the first season of the North Roe Felsite Project; Making an Island World: Neolithic Shetland, took place in June–July 2013. There were three foci of work: the geochemical and petrological characterisation of outcrops and artifacts; the topographical survey and characterisation of production at Grut Wells; and the analysis and characterisation of axes and knives in the Shetland Museum. A multi-scalar approach to data collection and analysis is being implemented and integrated through a project GIS.

Geochemical and petrological mapping – A Thermo Scientific ‘NITON XL3T GOLDD+’ portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer (PXRF), on loan from and with thanks to Historic Scotland, was used to measure elemental compositions of a large study sample of felsite (stone axe petrological Group XXII) consisting of: rocks at outcrop; debitage from tool production episodes; and polished stone axes and knives from the collection of the Shetland Museum. Of the almost 500 implements associated with Shetland and/or described as Group XXII the project has PXRF analyses for 213. A total of 900 PXRF analyses were carried out in Shetland, at the quarry complex and on the objects in the Shetland Museum, and a further 211 in the NMS. At total of 93 field samples were collected and 26 thin sections prepared, on which initial analysis has been carried out.

Analysis of this material is ongoing but the PXRF appears to be very consistent with an estimate of less than 1% variability in results as measured from the test samples. At the quarry complex this evidence will be used to identify outcrops, archaeological sites and landscape features for further investigation during the 2014 season and beyond. It is planned to extend the PXRF survey to cover all polished felsite stone axes and knives in major Scottish museum collections.

Topographical survey and characterization of production at Grut Wells – A detailed survey of an area 250m (N–S) by 150m (E–W) provided a detailed basis for understanding the working of felsite in this area. There are two distinct groups of quarry pits on a N–S alignment (following a felsite dyke). Other pits appear to be single episode or exploratory quarry pits. On the surface there were significant numbers of large blocks of felsite. The survey demonstrated a clear spatial relationship between these large blocks of felsite (over 300mm in length) and the quarry pits. It seems clear that the blocks of felsite were quarried from the pits and were the primary source utilized for the production of rough-outs.

The survey was accompanied by a more detailed sampling strategy to try to understand the surface accumulation of felsite debitage. This demonstrated that there was a clear patterning in the occurrence of felsite. There is a strong correlation of high density areas of debitage with the quarry pits. Within the zone of the major concentration of felsite debitage a sampling grid of over 50 1m2 sample areas were utilized to characterize the surface debitage. Material was collected from five sample areas. This will be compared with the debitage produced during the experimental manufacture of axes and knives from felsite which is currently taking place in University College Dublin.

Axes and knives in the Shetland Museum – All the axeheads (126) and knives (60) in the Shetland Museum were characterized archaeologically, their geochemical signature and petrology was recorded (see above) and they were photographed.

Analysis of the axeheads demonstrated the dominance of felsite as a source. Almost 75% (94 out of 126) are made of felsite, with a significant proportion manufactured from serpentinite (13%). The dominance of felsite is even more apparent in the case of the knives with 95% (57 out of 60) being made from felsite. The detailed examination of this collection also provided quantitative support for the visual observation that felsite axeheads are less spectacular in appearance than the knives. Whereas the felsite knives in the collection are produced in almost equal numbers from non-spherulitic and spherulitic felsite, the majority (85%) of the felsite axeheads were made from non-spherulitic varieties of felsite.

Almost 80% of the Shetland knives are either intact or chipped. It should be noted that the spectacular find of 19 knives in the Stourbrough Hill hoard constitute almost a third of the total number of knives. A total of 42 (70%) of the knives were shown to be made from flake-blanks, whereas the blanks used for the remaining pieces are uncertain. In more than 50% of cases spherulitic, highly patterned forms of felsites, were used. It is possible to subdivide the knives into a number of formal types with sub-rectangular forms (54%) being most common, followed by examples of oval/pointed-oval form (17%). Other shapes may generally be the result of use wear and re-sharpening. Analysis of the axes and knives suggests that there were two distinct production lines; one for pieces that were intended for ritual use and deposition and one for general use with potential for repeated reworking.

Hoard and miniature heel-shaped cairn – Two other results from the fieldwork demonstrate the special role of felsite, and of the quarry complex in the wider context of the Shetland archipelago. A hoard of three felsite roughouts, two large axeheads and a Shetland knife, was discovered below and to the SE of the Grut Wells dyke discussed above. The material is macroscopically identical to the debitage around the quarry pits. Comparison with the Shetland Museum collection indicates that the objects in the hoard are unusually large and well produced. A small megalithic tomb which can be seen as having the characteristics of the distinctive Shetland heel-shaped cairns was discovered, c300m N of the surveyed area at Grut Wells and overlooking the line of outcrop of a felsite dyke which dips down on to lower ground. The tomb appears to be orientated to visually link this area of the complex with the Beorgs of Uyea to the N. Far from being remote it would appear that the North Roe felsite quarry complex was a central place not just for axe and knife production but also for the construction of identity in Neolithic Shetland.

Funder: The National Geographic Northern Exploration Fund

Gabriel Cooney, University College Dublin

Torben B Ballin, Lithic Research/University of Bradford

Vin Davis, Implement Petrology Group

Alison Sheridan, National Museums Scotland

Mik Markham, Implement Petrology Group

Will Megarry, University College Dublin, 2013

(Source: DES)


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