History Of Jarlshof – Thousands Of Years Of History With Traces Of Picts, Vikings And Scots

A. Sutherland – Icestech.info – Jarlshof is an ancient settlement near Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of the Shetland Mainland in northern Scotland.

It is one of the unique and famous prehistoric archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles and Scotland. It embraces more than 4,000 years of human history.

Jarlshof, Grutness, Shetland Islands, Scotland, Great Britain

Jarlshof, Grutness, Shetland Islands, Scotland, Great Britain. Image credit: Nigel Duncan – CC BY-SA 2.0

It was home to many different people for a very long time. Excavations revealed late Neolithic stone houses, Bronze-Age village, Iron-Age broch and wheelhouses, Norse longhouse, medieval farmstead, 16th-century Scottish laird’s house, and a great variety of artifacts dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD.

Based on the evidence, technologies developed throughout the period. Buildings – low, solid stone structures with roofs possibly built of turf or wood remained oval-circular. Their internal space did not have many variations. However, the buildings were gradually modified many times. Each new generation often re-used the stones from older buildings, leading to a complex series of structures.

In addition to their crops and livestock, the people may have utilized fish, shellfish, birds, and seals as food and other items for daily living. The Bronze Age introduced ponies; from the Iron Age onwards, pigs, oats, and cats appeared.

How Did Ancient People Live At Jarlshof?

Spindle whorls and weaving tools were not found until the Iron Age, suggesting textile production started then.

JarlshofPainted pebbles from Keiss, Caithness; Broch of Burrian, North Ronaldsay, Orkney; Jarlshof, Shetland. Date: 200-800 AD. National Museums Scotland Project.

Earlier, clothes were possibly made of leather. Excavations of Iron Age structures exposed a large souterrain (underground passage and chamber) over 6m long, demonstrating considerable engineering skills.

These underground spaces were probably used for storage of next year’s seed corn and cold storage of perishable food.

The name ‘Jarlshof ‘ (means ‘Earl’s mansion’) was given to this ancient site by Sir Walter Scott when he was writing ‘The Pirate,’ a novel in which he refers to a fictional house based on the 16th-century laird’s house, the Old House of Sumburgh.

At Jarlshof, people lived for more than 4000 years, but how did they live? What was their life in the windy, cloudy climate with rain falling on more than 250 days a year?


Remains of Jarlshof unveil all kinds of settlements, wheelhouses, roundhouses, longhouses, manor houses; from the Stone Age to the end of the 17th century. Photo source

People whose life focused on farming raised pigs, sheep, cattle, and ponies. Fishing became a significant activity, and barley and oats were also grown. Many domestic items were forged out of iron, carved from bone or antler, or sculpted from local steatite or soapstone.

Why did the ancients live in this particular place close to the Atlantic Ocean?

Jarlshof lay on fertile, well-drained slopes close to sheltered harbors with freshwater springs nearby. The Bronze Age settlers from over 4000 years ago left evidence of tiny, oval houses (thought to have been partly underground at the time of construction ) with thick stone walls and various artifacts from times long gone. Two opposing door openings faced away from the wind.

The remnants found at Jarlshof represent millennia of human settlement in Shetland. The earliest-dated artifacts found at the site were

Neolithic pottery unearthed at the site is over 5000 years old; however, the earliest structures in the area of the archaeologists date back to around 2000BC.


The earliest remains on the site are late Neolithic houses, followed by Bronze Age houses, two of which have underground passages attached, known as souterrains. These may have served as cold stores. Third souterrain curls beneath the hearth of one of the buildings and might have been for keeping grain dry. Photo: Shetland Heritage And Culture

The Iron Age ruins include several different structures, including a broch, found only in Scotland, with two outer walls and a defensive wall around the site.

Jarlshof And The Viking Connection

Over the years, the typical Viking longhouses developed, with a kitchen, living hall, and a cowshed at the lower end, all made from stone and turf.

Objects found at Jarlshof such as bronze jewelry, net weights, games, and drawings reveal that the Norse were farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, and raiders.

The remains of up to 16 generations of Viking longhouses, made from stone rather than the usual wood,  are still visible at ancient Jarlshof, which was a self-sufficient farm. Other buildings include a bath-house, kiln for drying corn, blacksmith’s workshop, several roads, and pavements.

Jarlshof settlement is the most extensive site of Viking remains in Britain. By the 13th century, a medieval farmhouse replaced the longhouses, showing the change in society. After Shetland passed to Scotland in 1496, a Scottish Lairds house was built on the site and became the central structure. It was called the Old House of Sumburgh, Old Norse borg, which means “fort.”

Written by A. Sutherland – Icestech.info Staff Writer

Updated on August 16, 2022

Copyright © AncientPages.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of Icestech.info

Expand for references


National Museums Scotland

Britain Explorer

Shetland Heritage and Culture

Related Posts

The Strange Alien Skυlls Discovered in Africa

Many individυals appear to believe that hυмans are the only intelligent beings on Earth. However, a new stυdy serioυsly refυtes this hypothesis! Do yoυ think this discovery…

3 glowiпg UFOs a coυple blocks from the US capitol, Washiпgtoп, D.C.

This iпterestiпg UFO video of a three glowiпg orbs hoveriпg iп the sky above Washiпgtoп, DC was filmed last week. What do yoυ thiпk aboυt this sightiпg? Witпess…

13.7 Billioп Years Of Galaxy Formatioп Iп 44.2 Secoпds- Video

    A spectacυlar fresh NASA video shows how a spiral galaxy jυst like oυr owп Milky Way Galaxy forms aпd take shape, sqυeeziпg more thaп 13…

Terry Jo Dυperraυlt – The Girl Who Sυrvived After Her Whole Family Was Brυtally Mυrdered At Sea

    Iп 1961, a photograph was takeп of a yoυпg girl who was spotted aloпe aпd adrift oп a small lifeboat iп the Bahamas. Oпe caп…

Astroпomers have jυst discovered the largest galaxy ever, aпd it will break yoυr braiп

Astroпomers have discovered a gargaпtυaп galaxy. Alcyoпeυs is a massive radio galaxy 3 billioп light-years away that exteпd 5 megaparsecs iпto space. This strυctυre is 16.3 millioп…

Accordiпg To Bob Lazar, “Elemeпt 115 Is The Fυel Of Advaпced Alieп UFOs.”

Those who are aware with the wacko edge of UFO believiпg woп’t be sυrprised by the appearaпce of elemeпt 115. (aпd yes, eveп withiп the friпge believe…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.