Archaeologists create prehistoric treasure trove of earliest evidence left by humans on Shetland

By William Axtell | 02 July 2015

Collections managers face "big job" as thousands of artefacts from ancient Scotland return to curators by ferry

A photo of three women handling archaeological artefacts inside a warehouse
Almost 2,000 boxes of artefacts have been returned to Shetland by Northlink Ferries© Courtesy Shetland Amenity Trust
100,000 archaeological artefacts, dating from as far back as 6,000 BC and including evidence of the earliest human civilisation on the isles, have journeyed home to Shetland to be included in the Recognised Archaeology Collection of Shetland Museum and Archives.

Excavated from the Dunrossness area, they feature 6,000-year-old shards of pottery - the oldest found on Shetland. The shards were discovered in West Voe in two shell middens, where the debris of ancient meals accumulated.

A wealth of different objects has also been returned from excavations at Old Scatness.

A photo of people looking at boxes of artefacts inside a warehouse
Prehistoric Shetlanders would have sailed in skin or wooden boats, according to the team© Courtesy Shetland Amenity Trust
Dating on a barley grain and a bone from under the Broch confirmed dates of between 400–200BC for its construction. Five Pictish buildings were later added above the Broch village.

Conducted between 1995 and 2006 around the broch - a unique Scottish style of Iron Age tower - the excavations were the most intensive ever held in Shetland, yielding 40,000 small finds and more than 50,000 pieces of pottery.

Artefacts uncovered included animal and fish bones, stone tools, painted pebbles, pottery, coins, beads, Roman glass and carved stones such as the Scatness Bear and the Grice.

All objects uncovered in Scotland which can be considered portable antiquity must be reported to the Treasure Trove and are the property the Queen under Scottish common law.

Museums can pitch to hold the artefacts, provided they can demonstrate a clear connection to them and the capability to care for and presenting them.

The aim is to ensure that significant objects are preserved for public benefit.

“We’re just delighted to have this material back in our care,” says Curator of Collections, Jenny Murray.

“Now that it’s all here, we can make it accessible for Shetland students, and those visiting, to use in research project and studies.

“We’ve got a big job to unpack it all and formally catalogue it into our collection, but then we’ll be working on a highlights display of some of the best bits for later in the year.”

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Follow William Axtell on Twitter @WilliamAxtell.
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