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Old Scatness

Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork


Trowels out for last season at Old Scatness

The trowels have been unsheathed for Britain's biggest archaeological excavation as work restarts at the Scatness broch, in Shetland, today (Wednesday).

Around 60 experts and students of pre-history have descended on the Iron Age village for what will be the last of nine seasons of work, during which they have rewritten the history books about how life was lived 2000 years ago.

Work began on the Pictish broch, at the southern tip of the islands, in 1995, after Shetland Amenity Trust purchased the land and raised the cash to proceed with the first phase of activity.

By the end of this year the trust hope to have created a "living iron age village" which will demonstrate what life in Shetland was like at the time Christ walked the earth.

Since then the team from Bradford University's archaeological department, which have been in charge of the digging programme, have uncovered a spectacular maze of stone buildings which were continuously inhabited for more than one thousand years.

Over the past few years they have discovered a wealthy settlement where people produced top of the range bronzeware, from weapons to jewellery, and lived the high life eating beef and supping locally produced ale.

Last year evidence came to light that Scatness contained a bronzeware factory importing tin from Cornwall, mixing it with locally mined copper and creating bronze implements which were exported throughout Britain and even further afield.

The find of the year was a Pictish carving of a bear, discovered almost by accident in one of the walls of a roundhouse, provoking endless debate about whether bears ever roamed the islands, or whether the artist was depicting a brown or even a polar bear witnessed during their travels south or north of the isles.

The site has become a laboratory for scientific research into new dating techniques, and allowed specialists to explore their fields in a way rarely afforded by similar digs, which are usually limited by time and resources.

This year however the focus will be on preparing the site for its long term future as a visitor centre.

County archaeologist Val Turner said: "Work on the village will be completed at the end of this season, and we will be consolidating it in the autumn. We will stabilize everything and instead of covering it up we will leave it open and turn it into a year round tourist attraction."

Ms Turner said there was still much to look forward to though, with five of the iron age houses needing to be excavated to floor level over the next six weeks. "That's going to be fun because the floor is where people dropped things, so that's where you find all the goodies," she said.

However the archaeology will not stop entirely after this year. The amenity trust hope to maintain smaller scale digging operations on different parts of the site into the future, and the hope is that Shetland folk will play a bigger part in creating the Iron Age atmosphere to visitors who come to Scatness in the years ahead.

"Some Shetland-based people are starting a textile project where they take a fleece, hand spin and hand weave it and turn it into a piece of cloth…and that's the kind of direction we want to move in," Ms Turner said.

"It will become a centre for interpreting the period in a "hands on" way, where people can feel what it's like to live in the Iron Age and experience it with all five of their senses."

Article taken from 'The Shetland Times'
notjamesbond Posted by notjamesbond
4th July 2003ce
Edited 15th January 2004ce

Comments (1)

With regards to the bear in Scotland, the romans found something they called the Caledonian Bear here, which was particularly prized for shipping back for use in the gladiator's arena because it was so ferocious.

A bear skull was found at Inchnadamph in the Scottish Highlands. A lot of swithering went on as to whether it was a brown bear, or polar bear, or even a hybrid of the two. This might have explained why the romans found the Caledonian Bear to be different and more prized than other bears. The DNA evidence was inconclusive in the end, and it's been listed as the remains of a brown bear. It was dated as being 18,000 years old anyway. So not extant at the time the romans were taking bears from Scotland.

I went into the Museum of Scotland to see whats new with all this. The brown bear is listed as a native of Scotland until historical times in their natural history section. There was also an exhibit with a definate polar bear skull, found at Assynt in Sutherland, but it was even older that the one above, as 22,000 years old.

You can tell from the pictures that the Old Scatness Bear is definately not the brown bear which was common here at one time, though. It doesn't have the characteristic hump of a brown bear for starters. There has been some research into ancient songs from the area actually being mnemonics to help people reach Greenland and Iceland, and beyond. So the possibility of the people from that era travelling and seeing polar bears might still come to light. And I remember hearing that there is folklore which describes inuit people in canoes from Shetland as well.
Posted by Branwen
10th September 2009ce
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