The multi period site of Jarlshof, Shetland, seen from the air. The site appears to have been in almost constant use for almost four thousand years; with later developments being built upon and around the older structures. Today, the Norse buildings are some of the most visible elements of the site. ©RCAHMS
UPDATED MAY 2017
The seminal publication of the multi-period excavations at Jarlshof in Shetland by JRC Hamilton (1956) marked the beginning of larger-scale excavation publications of Viking and Late Norse settlement in Scotland. For generations the accepted dating of the published Jarlshof stratigraphy provided a basis for more recent studies of the period, most particularly in relation to material culture. More recent investigations at the site (Dockrill, Bond and Batey 2004) will in due course enable a more refined dating sequence. However, this is just one strand of the revision which has taken place in more recent decades. The study of Norse Scotland through major excavation programmes since the late 1970s has revolutionised our understanding of the nature of the Norse settlement, the areas occupied and the people who died and were buried in the pagan tradition.
It is customary to view the areas settled by the Norse as being confined to the Northern and Western Isles, however ongoing research by S. Taylor at Glasgow University is broadening this perspective. The identification of Norse place-names in Fife, for example suggests some presence (Taylor 1995; 2004) and the stray finds recorded through the Treasure Trove procedure (e.g. Buchanan, PhD thesis, University of Glasgow) and the re-visiting of museum collections (e.g. Hall 2007c, 391-93) are going some way towards fleshing out this suggestion. Likewise, place-name study in Argyll and the West Coast of Scotland also indicates Norse activity in combination with new finds such as the boat grave from Ardnamurchan (Harris et al 2017) and isolated stone sculptural pieces such as Kilmartin (RCAHMS 1992 Vol 7, no 68 stone D4, 130-31 ) and Kilfinnan, Mid Argyll (RCAHMS 1992 Vol 7, no 61 stone C3, 107-8 ).
Excavating the boat burial at Ardnamurchan ©Ardnamurchan Transitions Project
A number of synthetic works on the Scandinavian impact on Scotland have been published, most notably by Barbara Crawford (1987), Anna Ritchie (1993), Olwyn Owen (1999) and James Graham-Campbell and Colleen Batey (1998). Additionally over-arching syntheses on hoards (Graham Campbell 1995) and on the pagan graves of Viking-age Scotland (Graham-Campbell and Paterson forthcoming), bring together both antiquarian finds and more recent discoveries.
The available evidence and the potential areas for further research can be sub-divided into the three main sub-sections: