Shetland’s archaeology is relatively recent – discoveries span from Neolithic (4000 B.C.) through Iron Age and Viking into Medieval. (A.D. 1500) The collection consists of site excavations and stray finds. It takes in all elements, from domestic, farming, fishing and religion. Most are routine everyday objects, showing that Shetland was never a centre of power and wealth.

Early excavation finds are outwith Shetland, but we hold everything excavated since the 1960s. Finds from sites including the Neolithic houses at the Scord of Brouster, Iron Age brochs and village at Clickimin and Old Scatness, and the 16th century tithe barn at Kebister are held in our collection. Excavation assemblages mostly comprise duplicates of other material, such as pottery, hammerstones, ploughshares, loomweights and spinning whorls. However, most digs encompass objects seldom found otherwise in Shetland. These include Roman glass (Clickimin), Celtic altars (Papil), painted pebbles (Upper Scalloway) and a Norse millstone (Underhoull).

We have many stray finds, found by chance, either through cultivation or house excavation works, and most aren’t from site contexts. Some of our best finds have been discovered in this way, such as polished Neolithic knives and even Pictish symbol stones. Chance finds are usually found by non-archaeologists with a keen eye, for example, a Stone Age burial urn found by schoolchildren. Many stray finds are hard to precisely date, because objects continued in use for thousands of years; a loomweight may be 2000 or 200 years old.

Our archaeology collection also covers assemblages from marine sites, primarily 17th and 18th century Dutch and Scandinavian vessels. Artefacts include coins, trade items, weaponry and fragments of ships’ timbers.

The Archaeology collection cared for by Shetland Museum and Archives is a Recognised Collection of National Significance in Scotland, having received this accolade in 2014.

Archaeology Blog Posts

A Fragment of Viking-Norse Life

One of the results of years of peat-cutting in Shetland is that occasionally interesting objects are revealed. So it was the case in ...

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Treasure Trove Comes to Shetland

Members of the public are invited to come along with their ‘treasures’ and meet experts from Scotland’s Treasure Trove Unit ...

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Our bog butter is going 'home' for the season!

Our bog butter is going 'home' for the season - and will be on display in the Old Haa, Yell as part of their summer exhibition about ...

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Shipwrecks in Shetland - the latest

We were delighted to have maritime archaeologists, Colin and Paula Martin back with us last week to record finds from three East India ...

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Archaeology is rubbish

Archaeology really is rubbish. It is the study of the things which people have left behind – and usually that is the things which ...

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Gunnister Man Coins

Over 70 years after his discovery in a Northmavine peat bog, Gunnister Man continues to intrigue. Last week Shetland Museum curator, ...

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Shipwrecks in Shetland Part 2

Shetland has some fascinating historic wreck sites and the remains greatly enhance our knowledge and understanding of international ...

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Da Croon o Da Ura

One of Shetland’s more remarkable archaeological sites is Da Croon o Da Ura, in Unst, just about the most northerly part of the ...

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Shipwrecks in Shetland Part 1

Diving into the past Shetland’s Historic Shipwreck Collections. (Part 1) Shetland has some fascinating historic wreck sites and the ...

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Viking Toys and Games

Here collections assistant Tracey Hawkins discusses the activities both adults and children enjoyed during Viking times – from ...

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Two Earls and a Bishop

As our Three Kirks project continues, we are trying to piece together the reasons why the Orcadian red sandstone was brought to ...

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Drum roll please...

The results are in! We are delighted (and very relieved) to have received our results from the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh ...

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Road trip to Orkney

With enquiring minds and a thirst to discover more about the story of St Magnus and the medieval church in Orkney and Shetland we set ...

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Now for the scientific bit….

Things are moving forward with our joint project with local geologist Allen Fraser looking at the vibrant red sandstone built into the ...

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The mystery of the three Kirks

A small bright red sandstone altar found recently at Eshaness has sparked a mystery here at the Museum.

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