Uncovering Shetland's iron age past
For over a decade, Bradford archaeologists have worked in Shetland, to reveal one of the best-preserved iron age sites in Europe. The Old Scatness Project has had public access at its heart right from the start of the dig, with the team winning the British Archaeological Award for its public presentation.
Today, guided tours of meticulously reconstructed houses inhabited by ‘living history’ demonstrators give visitors a superb experience of what iron age life might have been like. Researchers worked in partnership with the Shetland Amenity Trust to excavate a broch, or roundhouse, surrounded by an iron age village. Specialist craft workers now demonstrate iron age skills to visitors, including metal and jewellery working, pottery, textiles and rope making. Elsewhere in Shetland, manufacturers have created products – including an Old Scatness Ale – based on the findings at the site that have contributed to the cultural identity of the islands, as well as to its economy.
The research carried out by the Bradford-led team is also enriching education in Shetland. Education packs based on the site, which include replica artefacts, have been developed for 32 schools and schoolchildren visiting the site participate in traditional craft activities.
For the archaeologists themselves, a priority was to share knowledge and best practice. A centre for field training was established at the site for students from many different universities. Local volunteers were also involved in the project from the beginning and took the opportunity to train at the centre alongside the students. These approaches have since been adopted as a standard for archaeological work across the region.
The quality of the work carried out at Old Scatness has made a significant contribution to Shetland’s heritage and its tourism trade and has also enabled the site to be considered for World Heritage Site status.