Jarlshof - History and Facts | History Hit


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About Jarlshof

Located in Shetland, Scotland, Jarlshof is the best-known prehistoric archaeological sites in the UK. Containing remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD, Jarlshof has been described as ‘one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles.’

History of Jarlshof

The site was discovered after severe storms in the late 19th century washed away part of the shore, revealing existence of the ancient buildings. Archaeological excavation began in 1925 and Bronze Age relics were swiftly discovered.

Buildings on the site include the remains of a Bronze Age smithy, an Iron Age broch and roundhouses, a complex of Pictish wheelhouses, a Viking longhouse, and a medieval farmhouse.

The name Jarlshof means ‘Earl’s Mansion’, and was coined by Walter Scott who visited the site in 1814 and based it on the Scottish period name of ‘the laird’s house’, even though there is no evidence that a Norse ‘jarl’ (or Earl) ever lived there.

The remains at the site represent thousands of years of human occupation, and is a microcosm of Shetland history. Jarlshof contains the most extensive remains of a Viking site visible anywhere in Britain.

Jarlshof Today

Visitors can visit the Iron Age broch and wheelhouses, oval-shaped Bronze Age houses, and the visitor centre which contains a rich collection of artefacts which span different eras. It’s also stunningly scenic, being located on a headland overlooking the West Voe of Sumburgh.

Visitors can also view the (relatively recently) ruined Old House of Sumburgh which was originally a medieval stone farmhouse and was subsequently converted into a fortified house during the 16th century, modernised and then abandoned during the 17th century. The stones in the garden are thought to mark the graves of drowned sailors.

Getting to Jarlshof

There are a number of public transport options with buses that stop near the site. The nearest stations to Jarlshof are Hotel Rd End, Sumburgh, which is a 7 min walk away. Grutness Shetland Ferry Terminal, which runs the SF7 ferry, is a 16 min walk away.

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