Scheduled Monument

Beorgs of Housetter, chambered cairn 730m NW of Setter HouseSM3569

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Date Added
20/12/1974
Last Date Amended
07/06/2012
Type
Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn
Local Authority
Shetland Islands
Parish
Northmaven
NGR
HU 36036 85444
Coordinates
436036, 1185444

Description

The monument comprises a heel-shaped chambered cairn of the Neolithic period, built probably between 4000 and 2500 BC. It is visible as an upstanding stone-built structure with large facing stones. The cairn measures around 5.5m NW-SE by 5m transversely and stands 0.6m high. Its concave façade is well defined, largely intact and faces southeast. The entrance to the passage is 0.4m wide and is set slightly off-centre in the façade. The passage is 1.5m long and runs NW-SE before joining the exposed chamber, which has an unusual slightly irregular elongated plan. The walls of the chamber stand up to 1m high and are constructed of large flat-topped boulders, which would have supported the now absent capstone. Other large boulders occur in the façade, with smaller stones forming the kerbing around the sides and back of the cairn, which has the effect of heightening the overall impressive visual impact of the façade. The cairn stands 90m above sea level on the rocky steep-sided slope of the Beorgs of Housetter, above and slightly WSW of Trowie Knowe, and overlooking the Loch of Housetter 250m to the east. The monument was first scheduled in 1974, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan with a diameter of 20m and is centred on the monument. The scheduling includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is in a stable condition and retains its form to a very significant degree. The monument retains several interesting features, including the curving line of the façade. The passage to the chamber is off-centre so that the passage joins the chamber closer to its NE side. The floor of the passage and chamber are paved with stone and, in the SW half of the chamber, the floor is slightly raised to form a slight bench or shelf. This arrangement has similarities with the chambered cairns on Ronas Hill and Islesburgh. The Beorgs of Housetter cairn was partly excavated sometime before 1902, but is highly likely to preserve further evidence for its development sequence.

Chambered cairns are Neolithic in origin, dating most commonly from the third and fourth millennia BC. Excavation elsewhere suggests that they were used over a lengthy period and housed the remains of multiple individuals. Despite the removal of stone from this cairn, significant archaeological information is likely to survive beneath its surface. The excavation of similar mounds elsewhere in Scotland shows that cairns might be adapted over time and might also form a focus for burial in later periods. Buried deposits associated with cairns can help us to understand more about the practice and significance of burial and commemorating the dead at specific periods in prehistory. They may also help us to understand the changing structure of society in the area. In addition, the cairn is likely to overlie and seal a buried ground surface that could provide evidence of the immediate environment before the monument was constructed. Botanical remains, including pollen or charred plant material, may survive within archaeological deposits deriving from the cairn's construction and use. This evidence can help us to build up a picture of climate, vegetation and agriculture in the area before and during construction and use of the cairn.

Contextual characteristics

Heel-shaped cairns are a rare and distinctive form of chambered cairn found in the Shetland Islands. Heel-shaped cairns share several similar traits with prehistoric houses in Shetland, especially their elaborate well-built façades. The large prehistoric house at Stanydale, which is often referred to as a 'temple', has a very similar heel-shaped façade. Heel-shaped cairns are believed to be a variation of the 'Orkney Cromarty' cairn type, as identified by Henshall, but their size is typically much smaller.

This example also has particular interest because of its location in a landscape rich in prehistoric monuments, including other cairns. There are other cairns 130m to the east and 180m to the northeast. Across Scotland, cairns are commonly positioned to be highly visible and are often inter-visible. The position and significance of this cairn in relation to two other cairns in close proximity is likely to be significant and merits future detailed analysis. Given the many prehistoric sites in the area, this monument has the potential to further our understanding not just of funerary site location and practice, but also of the structure of early prehistoric society and economy.

Associative characteristics

The site was visited in 1902 by Robert Munro and John Abercromby, both eminent archaeologists of the period, who interpreted the structure as a beehive hut, rather than a chambered cairn.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, particularly the design and construction of burial monuments, the nature of burial practices, and their significance in prehistoric and later society. Buried evidence from cairns can also enhance our knowledge about wider prehistoric society, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. This monument is particularly valuable because it lies in a landscape where there is a wealth of prehistoric monuments. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the placing of such monuments within the landscape and the meaning and importance of death and burial in prehistoric times.

References

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as HU38NE 7.

References

Munro, R and Abercromby, J, 1904 'Notes on primitive stone structures of the beehive type, discovered by R C Haldane, Esq., in the north of Shetland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 38:548-558.

Calder, C.S.T, 1965 'Cairns, Neolithic Houses and Burnt Mounds in Shetland', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 96:45-7.

Henshall, A S, 1963 The Chambered Tombs of Scotland, vol 1. Edinburgh.

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

Scheduling is the way that a monument or archaeological site of national importance is recognised by law through the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments of national importance using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The additional information in the scheduled monument record gives an indication of the national importance of the monument(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the monument(s). The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief and some information will not have been recorded. Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at www.historicenvironment.scot.

Find out more about scheduling and our other designations at www.historicenvironment.scot. You can contact us on 0131 668 8716 or at designations@hes.scot.

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Printed: 12/12/2018 18:49