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Impressive prehistoric site that was the site of human settlement for over 4000 years described as "one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles".

South of the airport is Shetland's prime archaeological site, Jarlshof, a hugely impressive place which spans 4,000 years of occupation, from Neolithic times through Norse settlement to the 16th century. The original Stone-Age dwellings are topped by a medieval broch, Pictish wheelhouses, Viking longhouses and, towering over the whole complex, the ruins of a 16th-century mansion.

This remarkable site was only discovered at the end of the 19th century when a violent storm ripped off the top layer of turf. Jarlshof is, in fact, not a genuine name, but the exotic invention of Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Pirate.

A helpful guidebook available from the visitor centre helps to bring the place to life. 

The site was probably originally settled around 3200BC although no carbon dating has been attempted on the site, but a site nearby was dated to that period. The site itself certainly dates back to 2500BC and the early Bronze Age. The building reveal various influences including the style of blacksmithy demonstrating links to Ireland. After the bronze age (500BC) there must have been a period when the site was uninhavite before an Iron age settlement developed around 200BC. At this stage the Broch was built which would have been the same size as Mousa Broch but is now more eroded. Habitation on the site continued until 800AD although there is some evidence to suggest that the society may have grown poorer and less organised. 

Between 900-1400AD the site was inhabited by Vikings or Norse invaders. The site is the most extensive example of Norse settlement in the UK.

After the mediaval period, the Old House of Sumburgh was built and then converted into a fortified house during the 16th century. The house was abandoned in C17th and the site gradually disappeared until it reappearance in the storm.

Travel Directions to Jarlshof

Just off the A970 beside Sumburgh Airport. Well signposted.

1471 Print Thursday, 28 May 2015