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Upper Scalloway

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Burial Ground(S) (Period Unassigned), Midden (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Upper Scalloway

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Burial Ground(S) (Period Unassigned), Midden (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Scalloway

Canmore ID 995

Site Number HU43NW 32

NGR HU 406 399

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

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

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Scalloway, Shetland, portable carved stone

Measurements: H 43mm, diam 20mm

Stone type: silica-rich

Place of discovery: HU 4069 3992

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 4840)

Evidence for discovery: found during excavations in 1989-90 of the interior of the broch in a secondary context.

Present condition: some wear.


Shaped into a cone, this was then carved to depict a human figure dressed in a full-length robe with a hood, with only the face visible, peering out from a hood that covers the jawline. The face has a well-shaped nose and heavy brow, with slits for the mouth and eyes. Above the brow is a sunken triangular panel with small holes at each angle, which is likely once to have held a decorative inset of amber, glass or metal. After carving, the piece was painted with a manganese-rich material, which is now dark brown but may originally have been red in colour.

Date: late seventh century.

References: Sharples 1998, 48, 174-5; Ritchie et al 2006, 61–3; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 15.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Archaeology Notes

HU43NW 32 406 399.

Construction of a new house on the hillside disturbed the remains of nine skeletons aligned east-west deposited in shallow graves. Until further analysis sherds of black pottery found close to the graves could be as early as Pictish or as late as Medieval. Three of the graves were dug into deposits over the top of a broch tower, seen in section cut by the builders. Further sherds of pottery were found in the rubble between the broch walls as well as many animal bones.

Sponsor: SDD HBM.

B Smith and V Turner 1989.

A second period of excavation was carried out in 1989 as a result of the above work. Work on building plots on a knoll to the north of Scalloway uncovered human bone and midden deposits. An assessment project undertaken by B Smith, revealed the presence of well developed masonry within the proposed buildings plots. This masonry was provisionally identified as a broch. Seven skeletons, inserted into midden material overlying the masonry, were excavated. The assessment project concluded that the masonry would be left largely undamaged by the construction work, but indicated other areas that would be threatened.

Subsequent removal of soil in the preparation of an access road and parking area revealed midden deposits sealing part of a broch on the top of the knoll.

Only the very lowest courses of the broch wall survived and the outer facing was missing on its western side. The southern part of the wall contained a well preserved inter-mural chamber. Artefacts from the overlying midden included Iron Age pottery, hammer stones and bone and antler tools.

Sponsor: SDD HBM-AOC.

R McCullagh 1989.

Further excavations were carried out between March and May 1990 in advance of development. The site can be divided into five basic periods of activity.

Phase 1 is represented by a cremation contained in a straight-sided, flat rimmed, undecorated vessel, presumed to be of Late Bronze Age date; found under the broch wall.

Phase 2 consisted of a broch and its associated defences. The broch had an external diameter of 20m and an internal diameter of 9.7m. It was situated on a promontary whose northern edge was cut off by a rock-cut ditch which reached a maximum depth of 1.5m and was up to 3.7m wide. The broch wall had been completely destroyed by later robbing in many areas but the interior was well preserved. There was evidence for at least three rebuilds of the internal wall. These secondary walls sealed a sequence of deposits and features representing a considerable period of primary occupation. The most significant context was a thick layer of ash which sealed several features and possibly represents the destruction of the original broch by fire. This layer appears to precede the large central hearth.

Large quantities of finds include: a parallelopiped bone dice, gaming pieces, a projecting ring headed pin and a fibula.

Phase 3 consisted of a Late Iron Age or Dark Age reoccupation of the hilltop. This phase appears to be the period when the broch wall was almost completely dismantled. At least seven buildings were built around the broch, overlying the backfilled ditch, but not on top of it. These buildings were badly preserved and most extended out of the area available for excavation. They appear, however, to be small cellular structures similar to those found at Gurness and Howe on Orkney.

Large quantities of finds include: several fragmentary and one complete bone comb, several painted pebbles, a hand pin mould, a bar mould, crucible fragments, an elaborate steatite weight and a spearhead.

Phase 4 is the cemetery which originally alerted archaeologists to the site. Another five skeletons and two skulls were discovered. Of note were a headless burial and a burial with an iron bracelet.

Recent discoveries in the Shetland archives have provided a reference to a Kirkhouse at Upper Scalloway in 1719. This would suggest a property, built on the remains of a pre-reformation chapel and associated graveyard, which has since been renamed and could be that represented by phase 5.

Phase 5 is the croft which survived into this century. This had been dug through the cemetery and underlying Iron Age deposits and may have destroyed any remains of the earlier chapel. A Danish coin from 1677 (2 Skal Dansk of Christian V) came from the topsoil in this area and complements the date for the historical reference mentioned above. Sponsor: HBM

N Sharples 1990.

The archive from the 1989-1990 excavations at Upper Scalloway has been catalogued. The archive consists of site manuscripts, the photographic archive, original pencil drawings, some ink drawings and photocopied bone small finds drawings, plus correspondence and draft specialist reports.

Historic Scotland Archive Project (SW) 2002


Publication Account (2002)

HU43 4 SCALLOWAY ('Upper Scalloway')


Probable solid-based broch in Dunrossness which was discovered as a result of human bones having been found during work on a housing development; it was excavated during generally bad weather in the winter of 1989-90 [1]. There had been no knowledge of a broch on the site previously, which suggests that there could be many more of these structures than is known at present.

The excavation has been thoroughly reported and, since in addition structural remains were minimal, only a summary of the discoveries is given here. Some very important dating evidence was recovered.

The site stands on a limestone ridge running N-S. The broch itself had been almost completely destroyed, a complete cross section of the wall being preserved only on the E side. The excavations revealed five phases of occupation.

Phase 1 was a cremation burial and various structural features of unknown pre-broch date. Phase 2 saw the construction and occupation of the broch and its outer defences during the middle Iron Age period. This period was ended by a destruction by fire. Phase 3 was the secondary occupation of the broch and an adjacent settlement during the late Iron Age, while Phase 4 saw the use of the site as a cemetery and Phase 5 the construction of a Medieval farm. Only Phase 2 is discussed here in more than outline; the material culture and dating of Phase 3 is commented on because of its relevance to the length of the Phase 2 occupation.

The wallfaces rarely stood to more than two courses high and most of the rubble core had gone. The interior appeared to be slightly pear-shaped towards the east and the foundations of one intra-mural cell were found on the south-east. No clear traces of the entrance passage or of an intra-mural stair could be found (although the latter doubtless started at first floor level). There was a paved hearth in the centre of the court and the foundations of a secondary wall, built against the broch inner wall face, had sealed part of the primary floor deposits; the excavator is confident that he had isolated most of this layer over the interior. There were some pits in this floor.

The broch's outer defences consisted of a ditch cut across the promontory on the northern approach. There was also a hollow between this ditch and the broch which yielded a number of finds.

A severe fire at the end of Phase 2 caused the deposition of a red ash layer which was diagnosed as the remains of a collapsed and burned roof. Two C-14 dates for this ash layer imply that there is a 98% chance that the fire took place between about AD 345-505 and AD 415-525. A large number of artefacts were found in the primary floor levels, nearly all of which were in this burnt layer; the assumption is therefore that the broch was regularly cleaned out while occupied. A very large amount of burnt barley was also found, suggesting that the building had served as a grain store.

Dating: a total of 24 radiocarbon dates was obtained for stratified organic samples from the site; none were from the pre-broch period [1, Table 24). When arranged in stratigraphical order [1, fig. 71] they give a fairly clear picture of the chronology of the site's history.

The earliest stratified dated sample for Phase 2 also gave the earliest date which falls in the 1st centuries BC/AD; this is exactly what is to be expected if one adopts the 'short' chronology for hollow-walled brochs (see Section on dating in Part 2). The rest of the dates, including the two specifically from the destruction deposits, are scattered through the first half of the first millennium AD but there is a good cluster of three which shows fairly clearly that the middle Iron Age occupation probably went on until about AD 500.

The post-broch phase 3 was divided into three stages on the basis of the excavation evidence and in broad terms these stages seem to have lasted from about 500-650, from 650 to 900 and between about 900 and 1000 respectively. Presumably the broch itself, although burned out once and presumably much reduced in height, must have been roofed and standing to at least 3m in height until about AD 1000.

Finds from the end of Phase 2: these are important because they give us a picture of the material culture of the inhabitants of a Shetland broch probably at the end of the 5th century AD. However the way the artefact appendices, and their accompanying illustrations, are organised in the report (to illustrate various economic activities) does not make it easy to get a quick and clear impression of what finds are characteristic of each Phase.

Pottery includes some Everted Rim ware of both the neck-band (fig. 80, 6 and 7) and the fluted rim varieties (fig. 80, 5). There were also some simple barrel-shaped pots, including an almost complete example with a remarkable pattern of vertical and diagonal fluting on its exterior (fig. 80, 1). This last also had an internally decorated base.

Metal objects include a piece of a bronze bowl (fig. 85) which may be Roman;

Carinated pottery: there is one strange phenomenon which, though commented on [1, 133], is not really explained in the report. From deposits confidently allocated by the excavator to late Phase 3 (end of the first millennium AD) comes some talc-tempered pottery which looks strikingly like the early Iron Age carinated ware from Clickhimin and Jarlshof which should date to the 7th/6th centuries BC [1, fig. 83). In particular the sharply carinated wall sherd no. 5 has decoration which is quite similar to that on a similar piece from Clickhimin (Hamilton 1968, fig. 00, no. 00). Presumably some mixing of deposits must have occurred during the extensive destructions and re-buildings which took place on the site. Thus there may have been an important early Iron Age occupation on the site which could not be recognised among the stratified layers.

Discussion: the

Dimensions: external diam. 19.6m, internal diam. 7.8-8.4m, wall thickness 5.5-6m; thus the wall proportion would vary from about 56-61%, probably above 60%; this at the upper range of the measurable Shetland sites [1, fig. 34].

Sources: 1. Sharples 1998.

E W MacKie 2002

Archaeological Evaluation (31 August 2020 - 25 September 2020)

HU 40665 39894 The site was first excavated in 1989 following the discovery of human remains during the construction of a domestic property. Subsequent excavation, together with investigations carried out in 1990, revealed a multi-period site comprising a Bronze Age cremation, an Iron Age broch, Late Iron Age/Early medieval settlement, a medieval cemetery and a post-medieval croft (Canmore ID: 995).

During 2020, groundworks by the landowner exposed structural and human remains. The human remains were excavated by AOC Archaeology (See DES Volume 21, 126). A subsequent magnetometer survey undertaken by ORCA in an adjacent field identified a series of anomalies indicating the possible presence of archaeological features.

The current programme of archaeological works comprised the excavation of 14 trenches to investigate these anomalies, as well as a number of upstanding features. The aim of Trenches 1–9 was to investigate the anomalies. No features, deposits or material of archaeological significance were identified, and it was concluded that the anomalies recorded by the survey were of natural origin.

The remaining trenches (Trenches 10–14) examined upstanding features and additional anomalies identified by the landowner’s own earth resistance surveys. The upstanding features included extant dry stone structures (Trenches 11–13) of post-medieval date, which provided further information about the site during the crofting period. Further stone-built structures were exposed in Trench 14 and these appeared to relate directly to the croft shown on the early OS maps.

In Trench 10, the topsoil overlay a rubble layer that contained material including animal bone fragments, lithics including two whetstones, and pottery. A number of sherds were identified as being of Iron Age date. The rubble layer sealed an area of burning defined by two, heavily denuded, stone-built structures. The structures appeared to extend outwith the excavated area and are potentially of prehistoric date.

Archive: NRHE (intended) Funder: Private individual

Sean Bell – Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA)

(Source: DES Vol 22)

Excavation (8 June 2020 - 15 July 2020)

HU 40602 39906 An excavation was carried out to retrieve human remains discovered during landscaping work on a prominent mound in Upper Scalloway. The mound, formed artificially through severe truncation of the surrounding areas down to the modern ground level, is a remnant of a deeply stratified multi-period site that was extensively excavated during development works in 1989–1990 (DES 1989, 1990). These excavations revealed, in reverse chronological order, a medieval/post-medieval farm; a medieval cemetery; Early Historic settlement; Iron Age settlement that included a broch; and a Bronze Age cremation (Canmore ID: 995).

A topographic survey of the area was carried out and the archaeologists commenced excavation, identifying 18 in situ burials containing extended supine inhumations and the remains of a minimum of 23 individuals. It is expected that these form part of the previously identified medieval cemetery. Some graves contained disarticulated human remains suggesting intercutting and truncation of old graves had occurred and the disturbed remains reburied with the new inhumation. A broad range of ages were represented, including young infants and adults. There was one instance of a likely double interment but generally a single individual occupied a single grave.

The grave fills were rich in artefacts including ceramics, spindle whorls, painted pebbles, stone pot lids, coarse stone tools, loom weights, fragments of bone combs and bone pins, amongst others. None of these appeared to be deliberately included as grave goods and are expected to derive from the underlying pre-medieval phases of activity and included incidentally as part of the grave backfill.

Graves were excavated into the underlying pre-medieval stratigraphy which included the remnants of wall-defined structures in varying states of preservation. As these were at risk of being removed by the landowner to facilitate the landscaping works, the archaeologists commenced a partial excavation of the area to the depths required for the work to take place.

A minimum of five structures were identified and, of these, four were severely truncated by modern development. The structures bear stark similarities to ones identified as Early Historic from the previous excavations, comprising coursed walling in curvilinear shapes with evidence of paving within. One structure in particular formed a neatly-built cell with deliberately infilled entrance corridors and multiple occupation layers within. Associated artefacts included worked bone points and comb fragments, gaming pieces, spindle whorls and painted pebbles among others. Large amounts of animal bone were identified including cetacean, sheep/goat, cow, pig and fish. Shell was also present.

Further deeply stratified archaeological deposits are clearly present across the Upper Scalloway area and it is likely that further burials and settlement will be present in the vicinity.

Archive: NRHE

Funder: Historic Environment Scotland

Sam Williamson – AOC Archaeology Group

(Source: DES Volume 21)


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