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  • Andy Bradley

Site in Focus - Hame Ayre of Gletness


In October 2022 a very clear ash horizon had become exposed after gales, situated to the east of a known Iron Age house on the foreshore of the Hame Ayre of Gletness. It is sited just above bedrock and is therefore likely to be of some antiquity. Earlier, in April, a miniature millstone was found on the beach of the Hame Ayre of Gletness, around the high tide mark and to the south of the Iron Age structure.

The site has a long history of interesting finds. In the 1930s a Gletness resident discovered half a decorated bowl when digging a strainer. The area where this section of pottery was discovered has since been lost to the sea. The finder was asked to look for the other half but this was never located. Edinburgh Museum apparently described the piece of pottery found as Pictish pottery.

In the early 1990s, Bradford University archaeologists spent a summer recording archaeological findings in the Gletness area, including the Isles of Gletness. They did a resistivity survey west near the Iron Age house and found a large circular stone structure. There could be a link to the Iron Age house nearby. Another resistivity survey might prove particularly useful.

In June of 2016, two bits of a decorated rotary quern, similar to Iron Age finds from Upper Scalloway, were found on two separate occasions, each being thrown up after easterly gales near one of the old boat noosts. The ayre, as well as the area around the Iron Age house, are checked after every easterly gale. Not realising it at the time, it was subsequently shown the two bits of quern fitted together! The two bits were sent to the Edinburgh Museum for identification. They were declared Treasure Trove but it was requested the items be returned to Shetland, to the Shetland Museum and Archives.

Over the past fifty years, many discoveries have been made in the area of land west-by the Hame Ayre of Gletness. To highlight a few:

  • two trough querns (the larger of the two described in the early 1980s by the Edinburgh Museum as rivalling trough querns found at Jarlshof in size and impressiveness)

  • saddle querns

  • knocking stanes

  • numerous millstones

  • another miniature millstone

  • a causeway (now under the sea) from close to the Iron Age house to the nearby holm: Little’am (Little Holm)

  • the decorated ivory or bone back of a Viking comb

  • fire-damaged stones from a nearby burnt mound

  • Bronze Age or Iron Age pottery sherds

  • a possible knife-sharpener

  • large pink granite stones which must have been specially brought to limestone Gletness

  • medieval stone fishing weights

  • pipkin spouts and legs

  • possible loom weights, and fishing weights

  • several ard points

  • six boat noosts

  • old soein holes in a rock called Da Klett at Da Hame Ayre

  • several skeos

  • tattie holes

There is even an ancient Tøfakuddie (used for fulling cloth) at the Hame Ayre of Gletness.

The sad thing is the sea is steadily damaging and dismantling the Iron Age House. It won’t be long before it is completely destroyed and potentially interesting artefacts swept out to sea. There was at one time a move to excavate the site but for various reasons it never came to be. For now, changes are recorded as much as possible but more intervention is probably needed before all is lost.


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