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  • Archaeology Shetland

Site in Focus - Ness of Burgi Gatehouse Fort

On a promontory overlooking the West Voe of Sumburgh across from Jarlshof near the south end of Scatness is the Ness of Burgi Iron Age gatehouse fort (sometimes referred to as a blockhouse fort). Surrounded on three sides by water, its landward defences consist of two ditches with a stone wall bank and the rectangular gatehouse itself, 74 feet long – though may have once been longer – and up to 21 feet wide. The low, lintelled entrance is much like those found with brochs and opens to the interior with an entrance to one of the two large mural cells, the other entered from the interior and a third in partial ruin on the SSW side. The gatehouse itself may have formed the core of a primary wall rather than as a freestanding structure though no evidence of remains.

Excavated in 1935 by Miss C L Mowbray, some sherds of pottery were recovered revealing occupation dates between 200 BC and 200 AD. These now reside with the Shetland Museum and Archives whilst two carved Medieval discs found prior to 1882 are held by the National Museum. The gatehouse itself was restored in 1971. A trench cut through the banks and stone wall in 1983 yielded no further artefacts.

But we’re not done yet – 400m north at Tonga on the same rocky coastline is another gatehouse fort enclosed by a bank and ditch. Discovered in 1971 and heavily excavated in 1983, pottery and bone were recovered giving it a date of occupation of around 100 AD. Like the Ness of Burgi gatehouse fort, these dates are of occupation only and are not

indicative of actual build.

An otherwise easy amble with wonderful views, one section requires traversing a narrow edge so sensible shoes are required.

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