Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC4180: Ness of Burgi  

Sources: Esri, DigitalGlobe, Earthstar Geographics, CNES/Airbus DS, GeoEye, USDA FSA, USGS, Getmapping, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, and the GIS User Community

HER:  Shetland Amenity Trust 557

NMR:  HU 30 NE 2 (515)

SM:  90226

NGR:  HU 3878 0839

X:  438780  Y:  1108390  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

This fort occupies a rugged cliff-girt promontory on the E side of the peninsula running out to the Hog of Ness and sheltering the W flank of the West Voe of Sumburgh. The defences comprise a blockhouse facing WNE onto the inner of two broad ditches with a medial rampart, which bar access to an area on the top of the promontory measuring about 30m in length from NW to SE by 25m in breadth (0.07ha), though a much larger area of sloping outcrops descends to the sea on the ESE. The blockhouse was excavated in 1935 (Mowbray 1936) and subsequently in 1971 restored, comprising a rectangular block, which though eroded at one end, measures at least 23.8m in length by between 5.6m and 6.4m in breadth. A lintelled entrance passage with checks and a bar-hole towards the outer end leads through the centre of the block and has a doorway into a chamber on its N side, while a second chamber with an independent entrance opening into the interior lies immediately SSW of the passage, and a smaller third chamber in the partly destroyed SSW end. Two hearths representing successive occupations were found in the chamber on the SSW side of the entrance, and the earlier was associated with a number of cobbles set on end at the doorway. The entrance opens outwards onto the rocky scarp rising up some 3.5m above the bottom of the inner ditch, and lies roughly opposite the mouth of a passage aligned E and W through the medial rampart, but there may also have been access to the rest of the promontory around its NNE end, where the block stops well short of the cliff-edge, and the inner ditch likewise has not been cut all the way through the outcrops. The excavations recovered a range of pottery and midden from within the blockhouse, while two carved discs found in a 'Broch ...on the rocky point Scatness (Smith 1883, 296-7) are also considered to have come from here. Reassessment of the sherds found in 1935 tentatively assigns a date of 200 BC to AD 200 (Carter et al 1995, 447), though how these relate to the construction of the blockhouse is unknown.

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed:  This falls well below the 0.2ha threshold

Location

X:  -145765  Y:  8368411  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -1.309428  Latitude:  59.858995  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Shetland Islands

Historic County:   Shetland

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Dunrossness

Condition

Extant:  
Cropmark:  
Likely Destroyed:  

Land Use

Woodland:  
Commercial Forestry Plantation:  
Parkland:  
Pasture (Grazing):  
Arable:  
Scrub/Bracken:  
Bare Outcrop:  
Heather/Moorland:  
Heath:  
Built-up:  
Coastal Grassland:  
Other:  

Landscape

Hillfort Type

Contour Fort:  
Partial Contour Fort:  
Promontory Fort:  
Hillslope Fort:  
Level Terrain Fort:  
Marsh Fort:  
Multiple Enclosure Fort:  

Topographic Position

Hilltop:  
Coastal Promontory:  
Inland Promontory:  
Valley Bottom:  
Knoll/Hillock/Outcrop:  
Ridge:  
Cliff/Plateau-edge/Scarp:  
Hillslope:  
Lowland:  
Spur:  

Dominant Topographic Feature:  

Aspect

North:  
Northeast:  
East:  
Southeast:  
South:  
Southwest:  
West:  
Northwest:  
Level:  

Elevation

Altitude:  15.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

The undecorated sherds recovered in 1935 were reassessed in 1995 and on analogy with material from Kebister were tentatively assigned a date about 200 BC to AD 200 (Carter et al 1995), thus providing a rough terminus ante quem for the blockhouse

Reliability:  C - Low

Pre 1200BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
400BC - AD50:  
AD50 - AD400:  
AD400 - AD 800:  
Post AD800:  
Unknown:  

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Artefactual:  Undecorated sherds

Investigations

In addition to the defences of the promontory fort, Cecil Mowbray (1936, 382) noted a 'low rampart' at the narrow neck where the path crossed over a natural arch to gain access to the otherwise isolated headland. Raymond Lamb, however, refers to this merely as a 'stone-revetted bank' (1980, 81) and does not seem to have considered that it was of any great antiquity; subsequently in 1974 Joanna Close-Brooks noted 'two sets of single rampart, cliff edge to cliff edge' (RCAHMS Canmore 520). The grass-grown portion of this headland beyond the arch extends for about 320m (2.2ha), and runs out a further 350m as a spit of bare rock. In common with many other such headlands, these are likely to be the remains of agricultural boundaries rather than defences.

1st Identified Map Depiction (1877):  Annotated Brough on the 1st edition OS 6-inch map (Shetland 1882, sheet 67)
Other (1882):  Two carved stone discs reported (Smith 1883, 296-7)
Earthwork Survey (1930):  Plan and description (RCAHMS 1946, iii, 34-6, no.1154, figs 502 & 508; RCAHMS SHD 39/1-5)
Other (1934):  Scheduled (Taken into Care)
Excavation (1935):  By Cecil Mowbray (1936; archive held by RCAHMS)
Other (1963):  Description by Euan Mackie (2002, 73-4)
Other (1968):  Visited by the OS
Other (1970):  By Raymond Lamb after RCAHMS (1980, 10 fig 4, 81; RCAHMS SHD 39/6)
Other (1971):  Restoration of the blockhouse by Ancient Monuments Directorate, DoE
Excavation (1983):  Trench dug across the medial rampart by Peter Strong (Carter et al 1995, 446-7, 473-7; archive held by RCAHMS)

Interior Features

Featureless apart from the blockhouse

Water Source

None:  
Spring:  
Stream:  
Pool:  
Flush:  
Well:  
Other:  

Surface

Blockhouse

No Known Features:  
Round Stone Structures:  
Rectangular Stone Structures:  
Curvilinear Platforms:  
Other Roundhouse Evidence:  
Pits:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  

Excavation

Blockhouse

No Known Excavation:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Geophysics

No Known Geophysics:  
Pits:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Finds

Range of pottery, animal bones and a fragment of a sandstone vessel were found in the 1935 excavations (Mowbray 1936)

No Known Finds:  
Pottery:  
Metal:  
Metalworking:  
Human Bones:  
Animal Bones:  
Lithics:  
Environmental:  
Other:  

Aerial

Blockhouse

APs Not Checked:  
None:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Other:  

Entrances

See main summary

Total Number of Breaks Through Ramparts:  2:  There is also the gap at the NNE end of the blockhouse

Number of Possible Original Entrances:   

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (Northwest):  Other Forms:  Checked entrance with bar-holes through the blockhouse

Enclosing Works

A blockhouse, two ditches and a medial rampart barring access to a promontory. In addition to these defences, Cecil Mowbray (1936, 382) noted a 'low rampart' at the narrow neck where the path crossed over a natural arch to gain access to the otherwise isolated headland. Raymond Lamb, however, refers to this merely as a 'stone-revetted bank' (1980, 81) and does not seem to have considered it that it was of any great antiquity; The grass-grown portion of this headland beyond the arch extends for about 320m (2.2ha), and runs out a further 350m as a spit of bare rock.

Enclosed Area 1:  0.07ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  0.1ha.

Total Footprint Area:  

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✗  

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✗  

Number of Ramparts:  2

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  2

Current Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  
Unknown:  

Multi-period Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:  
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  

Surface Evidence

Blockhouse and stone-faced rampart

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Rubble:  
Wall-walk:  
Evidence of Timber:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
Other:  

Excavated Evidence

Blockhouse

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Murus Duplex:  
Timber-framed:  
Timber-laced:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
No Known Excavation:  
Other:  

Gang Working

Gang Working:  ✗ 

Ditches

Ditches:  

Number of Ditches:  2

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Carter, S P, McCullagh, R P J and MacSween, A (1995) 'The Iron Age in Shetland: excavations at five sites threatened by coastal erosion'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 125 (1995), 429-82

Lamb, R G (1980) Iron Age promontory forts in the Northern Isles. Brit Archaeol Rep, British Ser 79. BAR: Oxford

MacKie, E W (2002) The roundhouses, brochs and wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c. 700BC - AD500: architecture and material culture Part 1 - The Orkney and Shetland Isles. BAR British Series 342: Oxford

Mowbray, C L (1936) 'Excavation at the Ness of Burgi, Shetland'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 70 (1935-6), 381-7

RCAHMS (1946) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v. HMSO: Edinburgh

Smith, J A (1883) 'Notes on some implements, etc, from Shetland, now presented to the museum'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 17 (1882-3), 291-9

Terms of Use

The online version of the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland should be cited as:

Lock, G. and Ralston, I. 2017.  Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

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