Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk


Steamy Bronze Age remains recorded on Sanday beach

New photos submitted of an eroding Bronze Age burnt mound on Sanday

October 4th, 12:11 p.m.


Photos submitted by a ShoreUPDATER from Sanday, Orkney of a structure associated with an eroding Bronze Age burnt mound just go to show what incredible archaeology can be encountered at the beach.

Burnt mounds are one of the most enigmatic, problematic and exciting archaeological remains of the Bronze Age (between around 4,000 and 3,000 years ago). The photo shows a stone lined tank which would have been part of a larger structure. The tank was filled with water, which was heated with hot stones. When the stones had cooled they were taken out and thrown away nearby. Over time, the structure would have become buried under a pile of fire-cracked stones, hence the name, burnt mound. 

Theories abound as to their function - but the truth is we don't really know what they were used for. Hot water and steam has many uses and suggestions include prehistoric saunas, beer making, food preparation, or boat making. As yet, there is no absolutely convincing archaeological evidence that narrows it down.

One way of tackling the question is to use experimental archaeology to test the theories. This is just what the Bressay History Group in Shetland have been doing, using a replica burnt mound based upon the real thing that they relocated and rebuilt. The structures that they moved had also been suffering from erosion. You can see the saved site and visit the only example of a 'working' burnt mound at the Bressay Heritage Centre, a short ferry journey from Lerwick, and make up your own mind about what happened in them. Find out all about the project on the Bronze Age Bressay website, and you can read more about the Sanday Burnt Mound here.