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  • Stephen Jennings

Site in Focus - Our Bronze Age Summer

As the season comes to a close and we reflect on some of this summer’s events, we are struck how nearly everything we touched this year came up Bronze Age.

In late April we worked with the North Roe Felsite Project to excavate a structure we had earlier identified as possibly related to the Neolithic axe factory due to its proximity to exploited dykes and a workshop. What was visible above ground was a rather non-descript subcircular structure with a smaller cell appended to the western side. The challenging excavation yielded a much larger structure than was perhaps expected and a hearth was located. Dates indicate the site was in use as late as around 1700 BC. As an interesting aside, we had another tree root sampled from the landscape which turned out to be a 46-year-old birch from 6,000 years ago.

In late July we had a clean and record event at Sotersta. Preceded by a visit to Culswick Broch and the possible eremitic site on Burri Stacks, we settled in at Sotersta to determine if the earliest phases of the long-abandoned croft fit the profile of an early Norse longhouse. The unusual size of the dressed stone used in the surviving elements of the house and the unmistakable subcircular shape of the levelling mound it was built atop led us to suspect a middle to late Iron Age structure was underneath. Looking for evidence of coursed walling for this underlying structure, we instead, after a mere 15cm in depth (far too shallow to verify or identify walling) came upon several potsherds in what may be a hearth dump. These were subsequently identified as late Bronze Age/early Iron Age. This was rather surprising but as fascinating is one of the sherds appears to be the base of a pot where thumbnail indentations from the maker are still visible.

Finally, in late August we participated in a two-day excavation on East Burra with Ellie Graham from the University of Aberdeen. Within minutes of our arrival, we uncovered a highly decorated and exceptionally rare (for Shetland) sherd of what may turn out to be Beaker pottery and identified as possibly from around 2100-2000 BC. Over the next two days we recovered additional sherds of decorated Bronze Age pottery and took several samples from an early hearth. Whilst we are still awaiting carbon dates and analysis of additional potsherds, we have at least found some diagnostic artefacts to indicate Bronze Age occupation of the site.


To be sure, this has been a very memorable Bronze Age summer with some unique and unexpected finds.


Late Bronze Age/early Iron Age potsherd from Sotersta.

Stunning potsherd from Whalsie's Ayre, quite possibly imported Beaker.