Community saves threatened ancient settlement

Tuesday 3 July 2007

An ancient Shetland settlement at risk of crumbling into the sea has been taken under the wings of its concerned community, thanks to a University of St Andrews coastal erosion project.

Saving ancient settlement, Unst

The huge undertaking at Sandwick Bay, Unst was led by the SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problems of Erosion) Trust and sponsored by Historic Scotland. They teamed up with the Council for Scottish Archaeology’s Adopt-a-Monument scheme to help rebuild the structures after the excavation was finished. This is the first time that an eroding site has been reinstated after its excavation.

Local group members worked with archaeologists and ancient building specialists to excavate the site and help rebuild it. The local group decided to have the structures rebuilt in their original position, despite knowing that the site would be lost to erosion. They will maintain the site and monitor the remains as they are washed away. Their attitude is that erosion is inevitable and, as the archaeological information has been retrieved, they now want nature to take its course, while hoping that the structures will survive for a few more years to give visitors a chance to see what they have found.

An interpretation board and leaflets are being produced to allow visitors to understand the remains. A display will also be arranged in the local heritage centre, which will include information on the skeleton found with an unusual polished stone disk beside its head.

SCAPE project coordinator Tom Dawson said, “We have finished the excavation of the structure, leaving some of the walls untouched, but removing other walls. Before taking the walls down, we photographed and drew them, as well as marking the stones, so that we could put the walls back in place. The rebuilding phase was remarkably quick, and it helped to round off the project. It meant that when the project was finished, there wasn’t just a hole in the ground, there was something to see”.

He also believes that the Unst community is a shining example of what can be done through hard work and dedication –  “This is one of thousands of threatened coastal sites and this project sets a great example for other communities to help raise awareness of the impacts of climate change upon Scotland’s coastal heritage”.

The work was carried out with members of the Unst Heritage Group under supervision of Helen Bradley of the Council for Scottish Archaeology’s Adopt-a-Monument scheme.

Echoing Tom’s sentiments, Helen Bradley said, “I am delighted that the project has been such a great success and that the local group are taking this site into stewardship. I think this is a great example for other local societies to follow”.

Noel Fojut, Head of Archaeology at Historic Scotland added, “Here we have a fascinating site but it is eroding into the sea and there is only a short amount of time to explore, study and understand it. The strength of local support and community involvement in the Sandwick excavation has been remarkable and is genuinely deserved”.

Another project is planned next year, seeing the collaboration of SCAPE and CSA, on the island of Bressay, Shetland. This is another community project but, in this case, the local group want the structure to be excavated and dismantled, then rebuilt outside their heritage centre.




For more information, call SCAPE Project Officers:

Labhaoise McKenna – 01334 462904 or email [email protected]


Tom Dawson – 07814 840988 or email [email protected]

Images available from Claire Grainger – contact details below.

Issued by Press Office, University of St Andrews


Claire Grainger, Press Officer –  01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email [email protected]

Gayle Cook, Press Officer – 01334 462529, 07900 050 103 or email [email protected]

Ref: scapejune2007

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