|30 October 2010
Prehistoric house discovered in Shetland
A previously unknown archaeological site has come to light in Shetland (Scotland) during work on a gas plant. As a result, a team of archaeologists has been excavating a prehistoric house and other associated structures over the past six weeks. The site was found by local archaeologist Rick Barton, one of a team of experts working for ORCA, an Orkney based archaeological contractor, while the six week excavation has been directed by archaeologist Amanda Brend.
The main building discovered at the site is probably 4-5,000 years old, has walls which include stone boulders and is between seven and eight metres wide. There is a hearth in the centre of it. Although the site has been badly eroded by hillwash, there are traces of a possible floor surface and this has a lot of worked quartz and charcoal flecking in it. In addition, the team has discovered some large pieces of pottery. Quartz specialist Torben Ballin has had a preliminary look at some of the quartz and it is possible that some of it will help to date the site. A few yards to the north, the team discovered a beautifully constructed, stone-lined, oval pit. Linda Somerville discovered that there is a neatly paved floor to it, and she has taken a lot of samples which will be analysed in the laboratory and might give more idea as to what this well constructed chamber was for.
On the southern side of the house there are two other structures. The larger may be a chambered cairn, although surprisingly it is built up against the side of the house. It is clearly later than the house and may have re-used some of the stone from the house. There were hints of a heel-shaped front and an internal chamber, as well as traces of a built outer edge. Adjacent to this there is what Amanda describes as a 'trapezoidal feature', a small diamond shaped feature about 1.8m x 1.3m. It had very clearly constructed edges constructed from boulders, and inside it was covered with fist sized pebbles which were mainly white. It is possible that this too was for burial. The team took it apart, but unfortunately there did not seem to be anything either inside or underneath it. Perhaps it was a platform for laying bodies on while they decomposed (possibly helped by birds) before some of the bones were buried in the chambered cairn. Meanwhile, the initial results from two pollen cores which were taken from the gas plant site in advance of the development have just become available. The bottom of the peat cores date to 9,725±40 and 9,065±35 years before present.
Unfortunately it is not possible for visitors to see the site as it is in the middle of the development area. The archaeologists will dismantle large parts of the site in their quest to discover how the buildings were constructed and anything left will disappear under the gas plant. However, the team will be writing the excavation up and they are hoping that even more archaeology to emerge from the peat.
Edited from The Shetland Times (6 October 2010)
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