The Chapel and Burial Ground on St Ninian's Isle, Shetland: Excavations Past and Present [Paperback]

Rachel C. Barrowman (Author)

ISBN: 9781907975462 | Published by: Society for Medieval Archaeology | Series: Society for Medieval Archaeology Monographs (SMA) | Volume: 32 | Year of Publication: 2012 | Language: English 256p, including 16 pages of colour plates
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The Chapel and Burial Ground on St Ninian's Isle, Shetland


This volume is the definitive account of the excavation which led to the discovery of the magnificent hoard of 28 pieces of Pictish silverware on St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland in 1958. It includes a reassessment of the original archives and finds, including an ogham stone found on the site in 1876 and a fantastic collection of glass beads, as well as several new small-scale excavations on the site of the chapel and its burial ground.

Taken together, this work reveals a long sequence of settlement beginning in the Iron Age. The first church was built on the site in the 8th century, and accompanied by a long cist cemetery with cross-incised stones and shrine sculpture. The church may have continued in use into the 9th or 10th centuries, and the recent work has confirmed that the famous hoard was buried into its floor. There was a degree of continuity between the pre-Christian and Christian burials, with evidence that the site was a special place for burial before the advent of Christianity. The report describes these burials in detail, ending the story sometime between the 11th and end of the 12th centuries, when an adult male who had died a violent death was moved to be buried on the site. Thereafter the site was inundated with wind-blown sand. A new chapel with an accompanying long cist cemetery was then built above the earlier church, and a chancel was added later. The associated graveyard continued in use until around 1840, long after the building was demolished.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction and background
1.1 The structure and scope of this publication
1.2 Site location and description
1.3 Archaeological background
1.4 Geological background
1.5 Historical background
Chapter 2 An ogham-inscribed slab from St Ninian’s Isle, found in 1876 (by Katherine Forsyth)
2.1 Discovery
2.2 Description
2.3 The inscription
2.4 Transliteration
2.5 Interpretation
2.6 Palaeography
2.7 Discussion
2.8 Previous readings
Chapter 3 An assessment of the 1955 to 1959 excavations
3.1 The available sources
3.2 The excavations 1955–1959
3.3 Excavated features
3.4 Artefacts deposited by Alan Small in the Shetland Museum
3.5 Environmental assemblage deposited by Alan Small in the Shetland Museum
3.6 Human remains from the 1955–1959 excavations
3.7 Radiocarbon dating of the Marischal Museum collection of human skeletal material (by P Ashmore, R Barrowman and G Cook)
3.8 Summary and analysis of the excavated features
Chapter 4 Excavations to the south of the chapel in 1999 and 2000
4.1 Introduction and methodology
4.2 Site sequence
4.3 The artefactual assemblage
4.4 The ecofactual assemblage
4.5 The human remains
4.6 Radiocarbon dating
4.7 Summary
Chapter 5 Discussion
5.1 Overall synthesis 5.2 Phase II: Evidence of Iron Age settlement
5.3 Phase III: Centuries of change: burial and worship, pagan and Christian, native and norse
5.4 Phases IV and V: Sand inundation, the medieval chapel, ‘founder’s tomb’ and burials
5.5 Phase VI: O’Dell’s excavations
5.6 Conclusion

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