The Time Team in Fetlar

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The Time Team, the popular archaeological programme broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, excavated two archaeological sites on Fetlar in August 2002 from Tuesday 27th to Thursday 29th. The sites examined were at the Gord garden in Houbie, and also at the Giant's Grave, the Viking boat burial at Aith. The map below shows the sites marked in red.

Fetlar Museum was used as their 'control centre' during the digs. Because of this, the museum was closed to the public for most of the week.

At Aith, first impressions did not appear to supprt the local legend of a Viking boat burial, where a man is said to have been washed ashore in bad weather conditions and died shortly afterwards, asking the local people to bury him in traditional Viking fashion in his boat. As the dig progressed, however, the all-important iron rivets began to appear, showing that the remains of a boat were indeed beneath the surface. A beautiful bronze tortoise brooch was eventually uncovered, which indicated that a woman, not a man, may have been buried at the site. The excavation at Aith had at least in part proved local legend right - it was a rare and unusual example of a Viking boat burial. The boat had most likely been filled with stones as the topsoil in the area was so thin, and this is what gave rise to the long covered mound which has been a part of the Fetlar landscape for over a thousand years.

The owners of the house at Gord had discovered stonework while digging their garden in the early 1990s and archaeologists had been called in. When the Time Team began to dig a decade later, they discovered what turned out to be a Norse house with a beautiful blue stone floor and a wealth of household artefacts such as loom weights. The most spectacular find was a nearly-complete steatite bowl which was wedged in amongst stones. The removal of the bowl without damaging it was a delicate and exciting process. It is the largest single object ever excavated by the Time Team, and probably the largest bowl of its kind in the country.

Steatite is a soft stone, also known as soapstone, which lends itself easily to carving. The Norse scooped it out of quarries in one solid piece, leaving a bowl-shape behind in the rock face. It is remarkable that such a large piece of steatite was ever quarried and carved in one piece, let alone survived for over 1,000 years. During the excavations, a member of a Living History Team carved vessels out of steatite at Fetlar Interpretive Centre, to show how the Norse would have worked with the stone. The results were beautifully crafted implements.

What follows is just a few of the many photographs we took of the archaeologists and camera crews at work.

Fetlar map
Work starts on The Giant's Grave on Tuesday morning   Work progresses and some filming takes place
Work starts on The Giant's Grave on Tuesday morning   Work progresses and some filming takes place

Phil Harding gets digging ...   Magnar Dalland, Phil Harding and Mick Aston contemplate the Giant's Grave site
Phil Harding gets digging ...   Magnar Dalland, Phil Harding and Mick Aston contemplate the Giant's Grave site

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Beach of Houbie, Fetlar, Shetland, ZE2 9DJ
Tel: 01957 733206 email: info@fetlar.com