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Tentative Site: The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland

The Iron Age in Northern Europe was a time of dramatic cultural and architectural changes. Iron Age Shetland was a largely treeless, harsh, marginal, landscape within the North Atlantic, and its inhabitants had to build in stone.

UK Tentative List

The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland

Iron Age settlement in the North Atlantic was a triumph of human endeavour in an environment which, today, is considered both marginal and harsh. The settlements and surviving structures of Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof reflect the confidence of the society and its economy against a background of diminishing resources (a situation which they were exacerbating) combined with (as far as currently limited research demonstrates) deteriorating climate and environmental change. 

Brochs and succeeding structural types represent a distinctive North Atlantic dry-stone building tradition. Mousa is the best example of a broch anywhere.  In many instances, brochs went on to become the centre of larger settlements: in Shetland developing as villages of roundhouses and subsequently of wheelhouses. These later dry-stone buildings were confident; some roundhouses had even greater diameters than the brochs but had walls of approx. 1m thickness rather than 5m.

Iron Age building develops from brochs through to proto-urban settlements. The South Mainland of Shetland contains a coherent concentration of outstanding examples of Iron Age development over approximately 1000 years. The roundhouses and wheelhouses are not unique but demonstrate exceptional authenticity and integrity within a geographically discrete area.

People invested in the same spot, reusing investment from the past, changing and adapting to their environment.

The three sites demonstrate a long continuum (1,000 years) of human endeavour and determination at a place on the northern-most limit of Iron Age farming. Their agriculture and society flourished sustainably for centuries, in an area which the loss of this society reduced to a subsistence economy, and which today is considered unsustainable.  Their surviving architecture reflects their success and confidence, both economically and socially, in a place which they perceived as neither marginal nor peripheral.

Official website

Did you know..?

The Iron Age Broch and Iron Age Village at Old Scatness was an undisturbed, pristine time capsule when first discovered in 1975, as the result of a road being put through what was thought to be a natural mound.

The island of Mousa has been uninhabited since the 19th century and is best known for the Broch of Mousa, an Iron Age round tower which is the tallest still standing in the world and amongst the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe. – https://en.wikipedia.org/

Old Scatness (59.8791°N 1.3057°W) is an archeological site in the south of the Shetland Mainland, near Sumburgh Airport consisting of mediaeval, Viking, Pictish, and Bronze and Iron Age remains.


Location: Shetland Isles, Scotland

Country: United Kingdom

Year of Inscription:

UNESCO Criteria: (ii) (iii)

Contact information:

For more information about The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, visit the website or contact visitor information on +44 (0) 1595 694 688