Rival to Stonehenge found on Shetland

Archaeologists believe they have discovered one of the oldest and largest Iron Age settlements in Europe on the remote, windswept Shetland Islands.

Excavations will begin next month on a 5,000-year-old group of villages which they are convinced will be every bit as important as Stonehenge. The Shetlands are thought to have been an early centre of wealth and sophistication, supporting a large population.

"It's a chance in a lifetime because we won't see a site quite as big as this being excavated again," said Stephen Dockrill of the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford.

"This site is a unique landscape and perhaps one of the most important archaeological resources we have in Britain. But because of its remoteness it doesn't have the publicity that Stonehenge gets - even though it is just as important."

The first settlers in Shetland sailed in open, skin-covered boats from Orkney, 60 miles to the south, and Fair Isle, which formed a bridgehead in their migration northwards. Neolithic farmers, who arrived around 3,600 BC, brought with them sheep, pigs and cattle and quickly cultivated arable land in the south of Shetland.

The Bradford team will begin digging at Old Scatness on the southern tip of the main Shetland island, believed to be the longest continually occupied settlement in Scotland, dating from 2,500 BC right up to the 20th century. Preliminary work may also start at the nearby village of Toab, where a mound covering a broch, or great stone watchtower, has recently been identified.

The work at Old Scatness and Toab will complement the spectacular remains of Jarlshof, a prehistorical site that was uncovered by a violent storm almost 100 years ago.

A fourth site, thought to be just as complex as Jarlshof, lies close by along the eroding shoreline at Eastshore. Between them the four sites form one of the biggest Iron Age communities to have been identified in Europe. Little is known about the people who lived in these villages, though the settlements are each characterised by a broch, which provided the centre of daily life, and wheelhouses.

It is thought that all the sites, which are located across two thin peninsulas near Sumburgh airport, were home to wealthy families, first Pictish in origin and later, from around AD 900, Viking and Norse. "They were probably some form of elite who were rich enough to employ retainers and possibly even use slave labour," said Mr Dockrill. "To build a big broch you would require a fair degree of wealth and an economic centre for metalwork. The quality of architecture in the brochs is so outstanding that they may have been able to buy in a specialist stone mason."

The broch at Old Scatness is one of the most impressive on the island, almost 18 metres in diameter. The earliest house is thought to be around 2,000 years old and was abandoned by its original occupants and used as a rubbish dump. Wall cavities, thought to be cupboards, have also been found while iron hearths and whalebone door frames have been identified. Some pottery is thought to date to the early Bronze Age.

"We think the site goes back much further," said Mr Dockrill. "We have evidence of reddish soil on top of the sand which is criss-crossed with early plough lines, so we know it was cultivated.

"Shetland is an immense archaeological resource which is underestimated by many. The land here hasn't been subject to the intensity of agricultural practices that parts of mainland Britain have seen."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

Foundation Phase teacher vacancy - Roath, Cardiff

£100 - £105 per day + Travel Scheme plus free professional training: Randstad ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Are you a qualified secondary...

Science Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher - NewportKey ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week