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23 Apr 2018

‘Let Da Stons Spaek!’

Written by Dr Daniel Rhodes (Archaeologist)
Croft at Collaster
The archaeology at Collaster sits in a landscape that tells the story of 2,000 years of island life.
The Shetland island of Unst is renowned for its birdlife and geology, but work by the National Trust for Scotland's Archaeology Team is unearthing hidden histories and local stories.

Shetland has an incredibly rich archaeological heritage. Visitors can see landscapes full of ruinous buildings, house mounds and field systems, with many including horizontal mills, all dating from at least the mid-19th century or earlier. Earlier still, the Vikings of the 9th century settled on Unst and left their footprint in the landscape. Characteristic longhouses are visible in locations with stunning views out to sea.

Excavation on Unst

Excavation of the Iron Age roundhouse and midden at Collaster. In the background it’s possible to see the remains of Boul Farmstead (abandoned in 1913). As part of the Trust’s work on the farms at Collaster we are currently working with the relatives of the last residents and compiling an archive of historical evidence and oral histories.

Lund and the surrounding area (Lunda Wick) is one of the most beautiful and archaeologically significant sites. The area includes an exceptional example of the remains of a Norse settlement complex (c9th century) and the 12th-century St Olaf’s Chapel. Nearby at the Loch of Stourhoull there’s also a huge Neolithic standing stone (c3400BC) greeting visitors at the roadside.

Standing stone on Unst

The huge standing stone on the approach to Lunda Wick. One idea for why it was placed here in the Neolithic period is that it lined up with another stone at nearby Burragarth to mark a lunar alignment.

At Collaster there’s a rare example of an Iron Age house site and midden (c300BC), as well as an exceptionally well-preserved farming landscape with evidence stretching back some 2,000 years. During our Thistle Camp working holidays we’ve been excavating the site and uncovering evidence of pottery making and furnaces, and moulds used to make fine iron pins.

Volunteer with the decorated pre-historic pottery on Unst

Volunteer Eddie with a piece of the decorated pre-historic pottery uncovered on the Unst Archaeology Thistle Camps.

We’re also working with local people and the Baltasound Junior High School to learn more about the history of the abandoned farms at Collaster. The research includes sharing family letters and oral histories tracing the stories of the ruins until the last family left the land in 1913. The pupils of Baltasound Junior High School have produced a trail leaflet containing a guide and history of the area, telling the stories they hope will bring the now-silent crofts to life.

The Trust cares for over 11,000 archaeological sites ranging from some of the earliest Mesolithic sites at Mar Lodge and Neolithic sites at Crathes, to medieval castles in Aberdeenshire and World War II aeroplane crash sites on Fair Isle. Our aim is to help people experience and protect this huge and fascinating world of Scottish archaeology.

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