Sites & cities that bear the name of Jarlshof


Today in : United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
First trace of activity : ca. 3,200 B.C.E
Last trace of activity : ca. 17th century C.E
Recorded names : Old House of Sumburg

Description : Jarlshof (/ˈjɑːrlzhɒf/ YARLZ-hof) is the best known prehistoric archaeological site in Shetland, Scotland. It lies in Sumburgh, Mainland, Shetland and has been described as "one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles". It contains remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD. The Bronze Age settlers left evidence of several small oval houses with thick stone walls and various artefacts including a decorated bone object. The Iron Age ruins include several different types of structures, including a broch and a defensive wall around the site. The Pictish period provides various works of art including a painted pebble and a symbol stone. The Viking Age ruins make up the largest such site visible anywhere in Britain and include a longhouse; excavations provided numerous tools and a detailed insight into life in Shetland at this time. The most visible structures on the site are the walls of the Scottish period fortified manor house, which inspired the name "Jarlshof" that first appears in an 1821 novel by Walter Scott. The site is in the care of Historic Scotland and is open from April to September. In 2010 "The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland" including Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof was added to those seeking to be on the "tentative list" of World Heritage Sites. The remains at Jarlshof represent thousands of years of human occupation, and can be seen as a microcosm of Shetland history. Other than the Old House of Sumburgh (see below) the site remained largely hidden until a storm in the late 19th century washed away part of the shore, and revealed evidence of these ancient buildings. Formal archaeological excavation started in 1925 and Bronze Age relics were soon discovered. Jarlshof was one of two broch sites which were the first to be excavated using modern scientific techniques between 1949–52. Although the deposits within the broch had been badly disturbed by earlier attempts, this work revealed a complex sequence of construction from different periods. Buildings on the site include the remains of a Bronze Age smithy, an Iron Age broch and roundhouses, a complex of Pictish wheelhouses, a Viking longhouse, and a mediaeval farmhouse. No further excavations have been undertaken since the early 1950s and no radiocarbon dating has been attempted. The earliest finds are pottery from the Neolithic era, although the main settlement dates from the Bronze Age (see below). A site nearby has been dated to 3200 BC. The Bronze Age in Scotland lasted from approximately 2000 BC to 800 BC. The oldest known remains on the Jarlshof site date from this period, although there is evidence of inhabitation as far back as 2500 BC. The remains of several small oval houses with thick stone walls date to the late Bronze Age and the structures show some similarity to Skara Brae on Mainland, Orkney, but are smaller and of a later date. These buildings may have been partly subterranean at the earliest period of inhabitation, a technique that provided both structural stability and insulation. There is also evidence of a cattle stall with a waste channel leading to a tank in a courtyard and a whale vertebra set into a wall that may have been used as a tethering post. Broken moulds from the smithy indicate that axes, knives, swords and pins were produced there and a bronze dagger was found at the site. The objects indicate the smith was trained in the Irish style of working. Bone pins and awls also survive and an extraordinary bone "plaque". This latter object is 5 centimetres (2 inches) long, has three holes bored into the ends and is decorated with various linear patterns. Its function is unknown. The Bronze Age structures are overlain with sterile sand, suggesting a break in occupation prior to the next phase of building.

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