Unraveling the Mysteries of Jarlshof: The Prehistoric and Norse Settlements


Jarlshof is a significant historical site nestled in the southern tip of the Shetland Isles of Scotland. This prehistoric and Norse settlement presents an unparalleled view of human habitation spanning over 4000 years.

Section One: The Discovery of Jarlshof

Jarlshof was unveiled to modern civilization through a violent storm in the late 19th century that ravaged its coastal lands. The ferocious winds eroded the sand dunes, unveiling traces of ancient dwellings.

Section Two: The Bronze Age Beginnings

The Bronze Age settlers were the first inhabitants of Jarlshof. The roundhouse of the Bronze Age is distinguished by a main central hearth and stone-built furniture—fireplaces, dressers, cupboards—all testifying to an extraordinary prehistoric lifestyle.

Section Three: Iron Age Developments

In the Iron Age, defense became essential, and thus, a massive, stone-built, fort-like structure was erected. The complex featured semi-underground passages connecting the cells, suggesting a strong semblance of community living.

Section Four: Intricate Broch and Wheelhouses

The Iron Age saw the creation of the remarkable drystone hollow-walled structures known as Brochs. The Jarlshof site boasts an intricate Wheelhouse—a sophisticated Iron Age dwelling with a central hearth surrounded by stone-built furniture.

Section Five: Pictish Settlements

Coming into the early first millennia, the site was populated by Picts. The Pictish oval houses, known for their iconic paving slabs, offered a glimpse into this mysterious civilization’s life.

Section Six: Norse Invasion

The Norse influence came with the Viking age, bringing significant architectural and cultural changes. Longhouses and a Norse Mill are proof of their dominant presence in Jarlshof.

Section Seven: Medieval Scotland

Times changed, and the Norse faded into history, their place taken by the Scottish Lairds. The medieval farmhouse, and later, the turreted mansion serve as testimony to the Scottish influences.

Section Eight: Victorian Era Impact

The final phase of Jarlshof’s journey is marked by the Victorians’ influence. They fostered our understanding of the site, culminating in the discovery of Jarlshof by Walter Scott in the 19th century.


Tracing a journey of civilization from the Bronze Age to the Victorian era, Jarlshof is more than just a mere archaeological site—it’s a storybook that unwraps history, culture, and life over successive generations.

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