Foula archaeological dig makes it into pages of subject’s leading magazine


A study into an archaeological dig in Foula has been featured in one of the UK’s most important archaeological magazines.

The site, at Da Heights, at the north end of the isle, was investigated by a team of volunteers from the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society (BACAS) in 2007 and features in the January edition of Current Archa­eology.

The trip was organised after an archaeology student who had been working in Foula in 2005 recommended geophysical surveys be carried out.

The community and Foula Heritage Group, interested in what could be found, were keen for this to be done.

After a chance conversation between John Holbourn, then living in Foula, and Keith Turner, a member of BACAS, it was arranged that a team should travel to Foula to investigate the stone circle at Da Heights.

Foula resident Isobel Holbourn owns the land on which Da Heights is situated. She said: “We do guided walks so we knew for some time there was something up there as we had seen lines and stones on the ground.

“Foula Heritage and the community group got in touch with BACAS who were very happy to come up and help. They did a geophysical survey first and found the stone circle and so they came back the second year and found the apex was in line with winter solstice.”

BACAS is a society of volunteers led by a group of archaeologists and other specialists, including director of excavations Jayne Lawes, geophysics specialist Dr John Oswin and IT specialist Mr Turner.

The team first travelled to Foula in 2006 to do preliminary surveys at Da Heights and other areas of archaeological interest in the isle.

While weather and time restraints prevented them carrying out all the work they would have liked to, one member noticed that the stones at Da Heights seemed to lie in a circular shape. An EDM (electronic distancing meter) survey was carried out which confirmed the stones were lying in a circular formation.

The team then returned a year later to continue their investiga­tions.

A report on the study has been published on the BACAS website. The best interpretation of the findings is that the stone structure is man-made and that it seems to correlate with the mid-winter solstice, however further work would need to be undertaken to understand its purpose.

Peat samples taken from the site also suggest some “human intervention” as small fragments of burnt charcoal, animal and fish bones and oat were found.

Some fragments of pottery were also discovered near the site although it is not conclusive if these are related to the structure or from another period.

Geophysics specialist with Bacas, Dr Oswin said: “[The dig is] quite a major find and quite successful as the site shows signs of habitation.”

He continued: “Current Archae­ology is the popular archaeology magazine – I don’t know how many thousand subscribe but it is the main one in the UK, so it’s a little bit of publicity for Foula.”

Ms Holbourn said people in Foula were pleased about the findings: “The community was involved right from the start. Folk learned how to do the geophysical surveys and the bairns came up from the school and everyone had a good time.

“We’re all very conscious and interested in anything to do with Foula so we’re all blyde about it. It’s another site of interest we can take visitors to see.”

The site in Foula is part of an increasing list of archaeological finds in Shetland.

Val Turner of Shetland Amenity Trust said: “I know the team who came up were very excited about it but it is similar to many Shetland field systems and enclosures. I think it’s fair to say anything that is roughly circular can be aligned at some point in the year to the sun.”

There are some plans for the Amenity Trust to go to Foula to do further surveying to provide a context, however this has not been confirmed.

Information and reports on the dig can be found on the BACAS website at and clicking on publications.


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