Exploring the Neolithic Landscape

Today was an exploration into the wilds of Collarfirth Hill to look for the evidence of neolithic stone factories. Now to be fair lots of people knew where they were… I didn’t though. This a view South from where we parked.

The body of water visible to the right is the head of Ronas Voe, the place mentioned in my naval battle post a while ago. Ronas hill is the one in the distance to the right of the photo.

As you can see from the photo it is a pretty rough landscape with loads of Granite strewn around.

Granite is one of the reasons we are here. Felsite is an igneous rock that is found alongside granite, it is an intrusion so on the hills the veins of felsite are in stark contrast to the reddish granite.

After about 45 minutes walking we came across the first of the quarries… we parked at the towers in the distance.

All of the felcite has been taken, and interestingly once this has been done the quarry was back filled. An archaeological excavation took place just behind where I took the photograph. The OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) data came back with a date at the bottom of the trench as 3600bc… so quite a while ago.

The stone was removed from the ground using hammer stones and wedges, we know this as they have been found nearby with some of the wedges still in situ. They were roughly worked at the extraction site and then moved for further work about 500m further down the hill.

Rough chips near the extraction site.

When we get down to the main work site we found hammer stones and part worked axes…

This is a one that was left behind as it would seem that something had gone wrong with it. The weird thing is that I might have been the first person to touch this in thousands of years. The chips around it are spread for tens of metres with here and there hammer stones and the remains of failed axes.

A couple of hundred metres away from the work place we found the first of the houses. This hasn’t been excavated so we can’t be for sure the exact date. The Guy in the red, Steve, was our guide for this expedition. Steve and my wife Esther started Archaeology Shetland.

So there we have it a very ancient part of Shetland’s history, or rather pre history. The axes got further worked nearer to home, this is an example of further working

Once Felsite is exposed to air for thousands of years it loses its colour. The axes were either left worked or for a higher status item they would be polished.

The axes are found all over Shetland so it would seem that they were traded up and down the islands.

One thing we don’t know is why this particular stone was chosen as a high status item. It is a good old height (230 metres) up on the top of a rather large hill and would take a lot of time and effort to extract it , shape it and then hundreds more hours to polish it.

The one thing we didn’t find was ‘the tree stump. Shetland is known for being pretty treeless overall and then at 220m is rarer still. But evidently in dry weather the Peat recedes and the stump appears. It is from a Scots Pine that was 18 years old when felled. Dating would have it in the second century. Unfortunately when Steve took the GPS reading of where it was he emailed it to himself then lost the email. So, as you can imagine, trying to find a short tree stump amongst all the boulders, and Small valleys was nigh on impossible.

It was really good day out, I managed 14000 steps even with my injured back. Somehow I ricked it last night and was dosed up in paracetamol to help me out.

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