Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC4181: Tonga, Scatness  

(North Fort, Scatness; Scat Ness)

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HER:  Shetland Amenity Trust 556

NMR:  HU 30 NE 5 (518)

SM:  

NGR:  HU 3887 0880

X:  438877  Y:  1108808  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

The remains of a blockhouse standing behind a broad ditch with an external rampart on a minor promontory on the E shore of the West Voe of Sumburgh 400m N of Ness of Burgi (Atlas No.4180), was excavated in 1983 (Carter et al 1995) in advance of ongoing marine erosion, which by then had destroyed E half of the structure. The surviving W half, which measured at least 9m in length from E to W by 4m in breadth, and had a doorway in its S wall lead into an axial chamber to which a smaller chamber at the W end was linked by an opening measuring no more than 0.4m by 0.2m. Both sides of what was presumably a central entrance passage survived on the edge of the cliff on the E and retained checks and a bar-hole. At a later stage the whole blockhouse had been extensively rebuilt and the southern wall thickened, hiding what were probably stone steps up its outside wall at the W end, and all the deposits excavated within the interior dated from after this modification. The relationship between the blockhouse and the outlying ditch with its external rampart could not be established stratigraphically, and while it is assumed to be associated, the blockhouse lies eccentrically within the enclosed area. This currently measures about 30m in depth from N to S by 15m in breadth (0.03ha), but the arc of the ditch, which is over 7m broad and 1.7m deep where sectioned, springs from the cliff-edge immediately W of the blockhouse and swings on a wide, ragged, arc some 14m to the N, ending 9m short of a geo on the NE to leave what was presumably an entrance causeway. Thus configured, the promontory must have measured at least 25m in breadth, and the blockhouse was positioned across the middle of the interior, with as much ground in front of it as behind. No trace of any other structures were found on the surviving portion of the promontory, though ten deposits of charcoal and ash interpreted as fire-spots were excavated, two of them dated 6th-10th centuries AD, as was another sample of charcoal from the entrance passage into the W chamber; these probably relate to a post-abandonment phase before the walls began to collapse and provide no more than a terminus ante quem for the construction, use and modification of the blockhouse.

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

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

Location

X:  -145563  Y:  8369242  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -1.307618  Latitude:  59.862739  (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:  10.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

No samples were recovered that relate to the construction of the blockhouse. The dates show ongoing activity on the promontory in the 6th-10th centuries AD

Reliability:  D - None

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

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

C14:  Three dates from post abandonment contexts

Investigations

Earthwork Survey (1971):  Description and sketch-plan by Raymond Lamb (1971; 1980, 32 fog 12, 81; RCAHMS DC1933, SHD 100/1 SO/CO)
Excavation (1983):  Interior and blockhouse fully excavated under the direction of Peter Strong and Anne Crone (Carter et al 1995, 430-45, 473-80; Archive held in RCAHMS)
Earthwork Survey (1983):  As part of the excavation (Carter et al 1995, 432, fig 2)

Interior Features

The blockhouse is effectively a feature of the interior

Water Source

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

Surface

Blockhouse and evidence of fire-spots to its rear

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

Excavation

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

Coarse sherds representing 21 vessels; a stone axe roughout and a stone disc

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:  

Number of Possible Original Entrances:   

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (North):  Simple Gap:  Checked entrance with bar-holes through the blockhouse
Entrance 1 (North):  Simple Gap:  Through the outer defence

Enclosing Works

A ditch and external bank cutting off the promontory are interpreted by the excavators (Carter et al 1995) as no more than a quarry and spoil to provide building material for the blockhouse, though this would have created a recognisable and lasting enclosure on the promontory

Enclosed Area 1:  
Enclosed Area 2:  
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  

Total Footprint Area:  

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✗  Too heavily eroded to measure the interior

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✗  Discounts the blockhouse

Number of Ramparts:  1

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  1

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

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

Excavated Evidence

Ditch and 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:  1

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 (1971) 'Scatness - Coastal fort'. Disc Exc Scot (1971), 41

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

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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