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Community / Scalloway man keen to see funding in place for more archaeological digs after garden discoveries

Local archaeologist Val Turner says funding is an ‘enormous issue’ in the sector at the moment

Some of the artefacts found during the dig earlier this year.

WHEN archaeologists left Upper Scalloway earlier this year following a dig in a garden they had found bones from 26 people and evidence of ancient structures – as well as two van loads of artefacts.

But the man who initially came across the skeletons is now looking for funding to be put in place for a more extensive excavation of the surrounding area.

Kristian Leith believes there is more to be found in the area, and thinks it could shed more light on the history of Scalloway.

He first came across skeletons while digging the foundations of a shed in his garden in May.

Due to regulations Historic Environment Scotland was notified, and the agency oversaw excavations on the site. A lot more bones – and artefacts – were ultimately found.

The skeletons were assumed to be from the 1400s, while some of the items included pieces of a comb and Iron Age painted pebbles.

An archaeological dig also took place in the nearby area around 1990 before houses were built at Upper Scalloway, with 22 skeletons found, as well as Pictish houses and a broch.

The items found varied in size, shape and function.

Leith said the skeletons found in the dig earlier this year were sitting 10 to 12 inches underground on top of Pictish structures.

Artefacts were found in that layer, and underneath that level more items were discovered, as well as structures, he said.

Leith received a loan of geophysical equipment and over the last two or three weeks he has been carrying out tests on the field to the east of his house, which he owns.

“I suspect that the settlement that’s here extends significantly more than what people have given it credit for,” he said.

Leith has passed the geophysical data onto the experts. “Looking at the initial results it does look like the settlement continues all the way down to the Mill Brae,” he claimed.

Leith was told that Historic Environment Scotland, however, does not have the budget for a full excavation of the area.

He took to social media this week to spread the word about his hope for funding to be put together for a dig and the associated analysis.

The Facebook post includes photos of some of the artefacts found during the excavation earlier this year, and it has been shared over 500 times to reach a global audience.

Leith has been overwhelmed by the interest shown. “I did not think it was going to go like this,” he said.

Val Turner.

He said someone from Australia has already offered to travel to Shetland to lend their expertise, while messages have also been received from folk in the US, Canada and New Zealand.

The discoveries earlier this year has led Leith to conjure up theories about why the ancient structures had remained undiscovered, including whether the site was dismantled and covered over after Shetland was given to Scotland in the 1400s.

Shetland’s regional archaeologist Val Turner, meanwhile, said the main focus of interest for her is the area in the front garden.

“There’s certainly more to be found in the front of his house and I would very much like to see that happen. I’m trying to do what I can to make that happen,” she said.

“As far as the rest of it, we don’t know actually if there is anything else there.”

Turner added that a company linked with the University of the Highlands and Islands is interested in doing magnetometry on the site as a student exercise.

“Until that’s done really, we don’t know if anything is in the field,” she said.

“Having said that, Shetland is full of archaeology, so there could be.”

Turner said it is “extraordinarily difficult” to secure funding for excavations at the moment.

“That’s why it’s hasn’t been possible so far to finish the area outside his front garden, which has got the Pictish remains exposed in it, and which I do desperately want to get finished properly,” she said.

“Funding is an enormous issue.”