Issue: Kebister: The Four-thousand-year-old Story of One Shetland Township

Publication Type
Abstract The story of Kebister was a constant surprise to the archaeologists and has opened a remarkable window on four thousand years of Shetland's past. 
14_1999_OWEN_Kebister.pdf (89 MB): Download
Author Olwyn Owen
Christopher Lowe
Editor Anna Ritchie
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Other Person/Org Patrick J Ashmore (Author contributing)
Simon Butler (Author contributing)
Stephen P Carter (Author contributing)
Ann Clarke (Author contributing)
Geoffrey Collins (Author contributing)
Naomi Crowley (Author contributing)
Magnar Dalland (Author contributing)
Camilla A Dickson (Author contributing)
Andrew J Dugmore (Author contributing)
Richard Fawcett (Author contributing)
Noel Fojut (Author contributing)
Barbara Ford (Author contributing)
Dennis B Gallagher (Author contributing)
C P Graves (Author contributing)
Julian Henderson (Author contributing)
John Higgitt (Author contributing)
D Jordan (Author contributing)
Finbar McCormick (Author contributing)
Jacqueline I McKinley (Author contributing)
Ann MacSween (Author contributing)
Susan Mills (Author contributing)
Anthony Newton (Author contributing)
Sandra Nye (Author contributing)
Paul Sharman (Author contributing)
Brian Smith (Author contributing)
Michael Spearman (Author contributing)
Ross Trench-Jellicoe (Author contributing)
Lindsay J MacGregor (Author contributing)
Year of Publication 1999
Volume 14
Number of Pages: 332
ISBN 0903903148
Note Date Of Issue From: 1999
Source ADS Archive
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1 - 22
This chapter considers the physical environment of Shetland (geology and geomorphology, soils, vegetation and land-use), the environmental and cultural history of Shetland (earlier and later Holocene), the archaeological background (recent investigations into settlement in Shetland, Neolithic land-taking, climatic change and peat growth, burnt mounds, burial practices, raw materials and trade, house types, the scarcity of Norse settlement sites, the Pictish/Norse interface), the natural setting of Kebister (location and topography, geology, soils and sediments of the Kesbister hillide, vegetation of the hillside, prehistoric land-use), a short history of Kebister (placenames, scat, township size and pertinents, Kebister's owners, landlords and tenants, the improvements), and an introduction to the project. Prior to this work little was known about the archaeology of Kebister.
23 - 78
The intensive topographical survey is described in detail. This is followed by an account of the newly discovered monuments which fall into eight main types: dykes, structures (possible), hut platforms, burnt mounds, enclosures, cultivation remains, cairns and miscellaneous features. The latter includes a cist and a quantity of cremated human and animal bone. The soil and sediments survey met with only limited success. Other surveys described include those on peat depths, vegetation, present day pollen deposition, fossil pollen profiles and landscape history, a marine seismic-reflection survey and associated palaeoenvironmental work in Dales Voe, tephrochronology at Kebister. The chapter concludes with a general discussion and a summary chronological interpretation.
79 - 137
The site as it appeared before excavation is described. This is followed by an account of progress of the project and the limitations of the archaeological evidence. Perhaps the greatest lies in the dictation of excavation area and sequence by the progress of development, with consequent effects on the pace of archaeological work. The areas were excavated in an illogical sequence, and often in haste, particularly Areas 1-3. The results of excavation are presented area by area. The account of the excavated evidence concludes with a presentation of the radiocarbon and other dating evidence, leading to a proposed phasing for the excavated site as a whole (chapter 4). In total c 850 square metres were excavated, in six adjoining areas. The main feature in Area 1 was a 16th-century teind barn which impacted greatly on stratigraphic relationships. The earliest structure in Area 2 was wooden and used for habitation. Other features in Area 2 included a manufacturing zone and a stone building possibly used for metalworking. In a final phase the area was cultivated and field clearance cairns were established. The earliest feature on Area 3 was an extensive cobbled surface. The other main feature was a sub-circular or D-shaped house with a sunken interior. Features in Area 4 included a series of field soils, a substantial prehistoric boundary wall and a post-medieval stone structure thought to be a sheep-pen. Features in Area 5 included cultivation soils, miscellaneous features and a complex multi-cellular building of Iron Age date. Area 6 had been much disturbed though Iron Age features included a stone-built structure, a deep sequence of cultivation soils and many pits, presumably for a combination of domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes. These were overlaid by medieval cultivation soils and a possible industrial pit and hearth complex.
138 - 150
Following critical evaluation of the stratigraphic evidence only 15 out of 140 contexts were deemed suitable for radiocarbon dating. Three samples were submitted for thermoluminescence dating. All the dates have been used to construct a structural sequence. At its broadest level the excavated settlement falls into four main phases: phase 1 - pre-Iron Age (earlier than c 500 BC); phase 2 - Iron Age (c 500 BC to AD 500 AD); phase 3 - medieval (c AD 500 to AD 1500); and phase 4 - post-medieval (AD 1500 to c AD 1820). A summary account of each phase is presented.
151 - 251
This chapter comprises specialist reports on a wide variety of artefacts and ecofacts: coarse stone tools (flaked sandstone bars, ard points, worked shale, cobble tools, stone discs, spindle whorls, other perforated objects, querns and rubbers, whetstones, bowls, stone clubs); flaked quartz; pumice; steatite (pre-Norse and Norse vessels, bake plates, lamps, handles, loom weights, line sinkers, spindle whorls, pierced discs and plugs); coarse pottery (Bronze Age, early Iron Age, later Iron Age); medieval and post-medieval pottery (cooking vessels, bowls, dishes, a colander and a jug); early modern pottery; clay pipes; glass beds; window glass; bottle glass; metalwork (dress fittings, vessels, horse equipment, knives, nails, tools); an armorial stone; other carved stones; burnt and industrial debris; animal bones; marine mollusca; plant remains; pollen; and soils.
252 - 305
The archaeology of the Kebister hillside has been divided into four broad phases: Phase 1 pre-Iron Age (earlier than c 500 BC), Phase 2 Iron Age (c 500 BC - 500 AD), Phase 3 medieval (c AD 500 - 1500), and Phase 4 post-medieval (c AD 1500 - 1820). This discussion is presented by phase. It sets out to draw together the most important strands of evidence, to summarise and highlight the most significant discoveries, and to place the site in a wider context. It also attempt to reconcile difficulties in interpretation in those areas where the results are ambiguous. At times the archaeology of the Kesbister hillside is as frustrating as it is fascinating. Therefore, while the main body of this report has presented observations and scientific results as impartially as possible, the more fascinating aspects of the site are explored, including those where there are no clear answers.
307 - 320
There can never be any certainty about the etymology of the Shetland Handigert, because of the lack of manuscript records and oral information. However, the balance of the evidence suggests that both Handigert and Kesbister, in different ways, take their names from the same physical feature, dominant in the Kebister landscape: the steep, 'kabe'-shaped hill now called Luggie's Knowe.
321 - 332
The story of Kebister has opened a remarkable window on four thousand years of Shetland's past. From its shadowy beginnings before the Bronze Age, the farm at Kebister flourished into a cluster of houses in the Iron Age which remained in use for hundreds of years. In Viking and medieval times, a small chapel and at least two graves existed on this very old site, and the hillside continued to be farmed intensively. In the 16th century an obscure archdeacon built a magnificent teind (tithe) barn at Kebister, complete with an unusual armorial panel. The post-medieval township was not finally abandoned until about 1820.
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