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Jarlshof Settlement

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This has to be Scotland’s most famous prehistoric archaeological site. The excavation of Jarlshof (pronounced yarlz-hoff) can be found in the far north of Scotland, on the southern tip of the Shetland Islands.

This exceptional archaeological site is home to the remains of previous settlers of the isles, some dating as far back as 2500BC. The site acquired its name from the 17th century writer Walter Scott, who set part of his novel ‘The Pirate’ in the Old House of Sumburgh, which he called Jarlshof. The area is now managed by Historic Scotland.


The remnants found at Jarlshof represent millennia of human settlement in Shetland. The earliest-dated artefacts found at the site were Neolithic pottery with an age of over 5000 years, although the earliest structures in the area have only been dated to around 2000BC. These oval structures were homes to Bronze Age settlers, and are thought to have been partly-subterranean at the time of construction, a common method at the time that provided the inhabitants with insulation as well as structural integrity.

It is speculated that the Bronze Age settlement was abandoned for many years before Iron Age migrants came to the region, due to the building of newer wheelhouses (circular structures with alcoves cut into the perimeter) on top of the Bronze Age oval homes, which were dated to around 200BC. Amongst the remains found from this period there are bone pins, thought to be used as grooming tools, and painted pebbles dated from between 500AD to 800AD.

The most prominent ruins, however, date back to the Norse Period settlers, who populated the area continuously from the 9th to 14th centuries. Many iron hunting and gathering tools were found in this part of the site, along with drawings of Viking longships and men. The centerpiece, however, is a longhouse that lasted generations and was lengthened and improved over time. It features timber frames, benches, and a central hearth, typical of Viking settlements of the time.


The fortified residence, originally a medieval farmhouse, is now known as Jarlshof House after being featured in Walter Scott’s novel. It belonged to Robert Stewart, the first Earl of Orkney, in the early 17th century and was passed down to his son who modernized the house before abandoning it later in the century. Jarls-hof literally translates as ‘Earls House’.



Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Jubilee Park Road, Dingwall
Highlands, Scotland, IV15 9QZ
+44 (0)1349 862 236

Contact Details

  • Address: Sumburgh Head, Shetland, Shetland Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, ZE3 9JN
  • GPS: 59.86917222,-1.290708333
  • Phone: 0044 (0)1950 460 112
  • Part of UK: Scotland
  • Sat Nav Postcode: ZE3 9JN
  • Entrance Fees: Yes
  • Disabled Access: Reasonably Good
  • Visibility from Road: Entrance to site only
  • Image Credits: Header Image: Allen Furmanski

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