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Viking Longhouse Reconstructed

Published: 29 October 2012

Reconstructed Longhouse at Brookepoint in Unst. Reconstructed Longhouse at Brookepoint in Unst.ZoomShetland Amenity Trust are pleased to announce the completion of the replica Viking Longhouse in Unst which the Trust's Architectural Heritage team have been working on during the past three summers.

The longhouse has been based on the results of three archaeological excavations of longhouse sites in Unst: Hamar, Underhoull and Belmont and is a significant achievement of the Viking Unst project.

Val Turner, Shetland Archaeologist, and project manager said "The excavations have given us much more idea about what a longhouse in Shetland looked like, although we have been surprised to find that there is no single blue-print for how it looked. Each excavated longhouse had differences to the others: Underhoull even had one turf wall and one drystone wall. When we get to the height of the walls and the roof, our replica is more speculative, based on information from excavations in Norway and also traditions from Shetland and further afield."

Over 85% of the costs for this build were secured from funding sources outside of Shetland. The project was primarily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, with contributions from Historic Scotland, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Shetland Islands Council and Shetland Amenity Trust. 

Preparing joints by hand. No nails were used in the construction. Preparing joints by hand. No nails were used in the construction.ZoomBuilding the longhouse was a complex and difficult process as the Architectural Heritage team had to learn the Viking skills required to complete the building authentically. Each timber, which came from Dingwall on the Scottish mainland, has been individually cut and jointed so that the timbers fit together. As no tree is exactly the same, this has been a careful and painstaking process. The overall framework locks together and is held in place by the joints themselves rather than nails. The craftsmen who have worked on the project have found it to be a rewarding experience, and have completed this impressive building using their existing skills, and techniques new to them.

The outer skin of dry stone work was carried out by stonemasons, again using traditional methods and skills which continue in modern building and restoration. The roof has a wooden covering with a membrane and birch bark applied to keep the interior of the house dry. This has been sealed with turf, taken from the tennis court at Buness House and donated to the project by David and Jennifer Edmonston.

The longhouse has now to get its completion certificate, following which, Shetland Amenity Trust plan to use the longhouse to stage events, including feasts, and as a centre for Viking activity days or weekends, building on the successful Living History interpretation events which have been run at Brookpoint over the summers of the Viking Unst project.

For more details of the Viking Unst Project and the outcomes, please contact the Archaeology Section.