Iron Age sites seeking World Heritage status

Broch of Mousa

Mousa broch was built more than 2000 years ago

Three Iron Age settlements in Shetland are in the running for Unesco World Heritage status.

Collectively known as the zenith of Iron Age Shetland, they are among five sites proposed by the UK Government to join the prestigious list.

If successful, they will join Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as World Heritage Sites, deemed to be of “outstanding value to mankind”.

The zenith of Iron Age Shetland includes the surviving settlements and structures of Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof.

Built of stone by the inhabitants of the largely treeless islands, they are described as “the pinnacle of prehistoric architectural achievements in Northern Europe” in a presentation posted on the Unesco website.

The broch a Muse it has been described as the best preserved in Scotland.

Brochs – meaning fort or fortified place in Old Norse – are massive, circular, double-walled dry-stone towers that would have dominated the landscape of northern and western Scotland during the Iron Age.

The 13 m (42 ft) tall Mousa structure is thought to have been built in 300 BC

It is described as “an outstanding feat of engineering for the society of that period” in the UK’s Unesco bid.

Old Scatness

There is evidence that Old Scatness has been occupied for more than 1,000 years

Old Scatness it is a dry stone and Iron Age village which was accidentally discovered in 1975 following plans to build a road through the site.

So a “pristine Iron Age time capsule”, was excavated between 1995 and 2006.

Modern excavation techniques have been used, ensuring a full understanding of the site, according to the submission to Unesco.

It provides evidence of the large single-walled roundhouses which succeeded the brochs.

And it shows that Iron Age society lasted on the site for more than 1,000 years, detailing how broch society developed and flourished.

Jarlhof Shetland

Jarlshof has been a place of human settlement for more than 4000 years

The third site of the collection is Jarlshof, which is less than a mile from Old Scatness.

Neolithic people first settled Jarlshof around 2700 BC and it remained in use until the 1600s.

Finds at the site include oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, an Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse longhouses, a medieval farmhouse and an owner’s house dating back to the 1500s.

“There is no comparable rural Viking town, not even in the Scandinavian homelands,” the report adds to UNESCO.

“It represents a moment of cultural and lifestyle transformation – a cultural upheaval that strongly influences life today, defining Shetland within the North Atlantic.”


Jarlshof remained in use until the 1600s

The UK government’s ‘tentative list’ is published approximately every 10 years and indicates places believed to have the best chance of being recognized by Unesco as World Heritage Sites.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed the other new sites are York; Birkenhead Park in Merseyside; the East Atlantic Flyway – an area used by migratory birds in northern and eastern England; and Little Cayman Marine Parks and Protected Areas in the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands.

Scotland currently has six World Heritage Sites: the Antonine Wall; Heart of Neolithic Orkney; New Lanark; the old and new towns of Edinburgh; St Kilda; and the Forth Bridge.

Jarlhof Shetland

Dry stone walls at Jarlshof

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