An early Christian Monk Stone

An early Christian Monk Stone from the Archaeology Collection cared for by Shetland Museum. © Shetland Amenity Trust. The Archaeology Collection cared for by Shetland Amenity Trust comprises between 300,000 to 400,000 artefacts and represents all aspects of life in Shetland from 4000BC to the 17th Century. 

Among its treasures are a huge range of locally made tools, early agricultural implements, vessels for food preparation, textile production and a rich assemblage of animal bone deposits. Many of these offer an insight into the lives of Neolithic communities dating to when Shetland was at the heart of European trade routes.

Later examples of the Island’s rich archaeology range from rare examples of Roman glass to an iconic early Christian Monk Stone, which is believed to illustrate the coming of Christianity to Shetland.

Now this important collection, which has been widely praised by academics as “by far the most complete record of the Viking/Norse presence within the British Isles” has been identified as a Recognised Collection of National Significance by Museums Scotland.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop explained how the Scheme serves to highlight “Scotland’s most important national and international collections” containing the “most important, best quality, historic artefacts and artworks”. 

“This very significant archaeology collection absolutely falls into that category,” she added. “The award of Recognised status is fully deserved and will help Shetland Amenity Trust in bringing the collection into the public eye”.

The collection also holds evidence of funerary traditions and an important group of wooden tools suggestive of a ritual tradition shared throughout Northern Europe and a collection of Neolithic knives and axes said to be among the most beautiful and distinctive archaeological finds of their type in the UK.

Many of these felsite tools were discovered at North Roe and with their striking patterns and highly polished surfaces they amaze visitors and academics alike.

Now these and other archaeological treasures will join national gems like the archaeology collection at Orkney Museum, the National Burns Collection and Shetland Museum’s own Textiles Collection as part of the nationally Recognised Collections. 

And like these treasured holdings, Shetland’s valuable haul of archaeology will be able to access funding for improvements and access.

Curator Dr Ian Tait said the award would help the museum bring the collection to the public “in increasingly innovative and creative ways”.

“We applied because we want to raise awareness of the archaeology collection, to safeguard continuing levels of investment and to enable us to further increase public access,” he added.

“Recognised status will enable us to further develop our ongoing work in research, exhibition, and interpretation to people in these islands and beyond. This will be a huge boost for Shetland’s cultural heritage.”