Archaeology and Northern Studies

Archaeology content



Shetland UHI is a contributor to the Archaeological Institute which Centres on Orkney College but with contributing staff based in Shetland and Lews Castle in the Western Isles conduct archaeological research across a wide range of periods and regions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a core focus on the Highlands and Islands region. However, recent projects have ranged from Scotland to Easter Island, Nepal, the Cook Islands and Sri Lanka.

Research themes

Archaeology at Shetland focuses on four core themes:

  • Scottish Archaeology
  • Contact, exchange and cultural identity
  • Landscape and environment
  • Archaeology and sustainability

Shetland is justifiably famous for the quality of its surviving archaeological remains. The college’s staff use Shetland and wider Scottish archaeology to contribute to the wider global interpretations of the past and intellectual development of the discipline. Shetland was occupied from at least the 4th millennium BC to the modern period. Important sites include the Mesolithic shell midden at West Voe Sumburgh, and Neolithic landscapes, Scord of Brewster, Islesburgh and Stannydale “Temple”. Shetland is also host an extraordinary density of Iron Age Brochs, including the tallest surviving example Mousa, the Broch village at Scatness and the recently discovered Channerwick Broch with its elaborate internal well. Shetland was the first place in Britain where Viking Longhouses were identified, (at Jarlshof in 1936), and has perhaps Britain’s densest concentration of surviving Viking Age longhouses in Unst. Most of these are simple farmsteads, but there are also a number of high status defended sites on small islands and promontories, best exemplified by the Kame of Isbister, subject of an ongoing Shetland UHI project.      

The study of landscapes is seen as a fundamental part of archaeological research and practice. The importance of archaeological landscapes, primarily with regard to the ways in which archaeologists have considered the wider context of archaeological sites, and also the affects that contemporary issues and perceptions have had upon the interpretation and management of these landscapes are parts of this area of research. A significant focus of study is the range of different factors, both human and natural, which have formed the landscapes we see today as well as to appreciate the ways in which these landscapes have influenced the identity, culture and social structure of the people who dwelt within them. Landscape studies are approached in a variety of different ways by research staff, through geophysical and topographic survey, environmental archaeology, phenomenology, current perceptions, and through management.

Staff have been keenly interested in issues of Cultural Heritage management conservation, and development policy. Sustainability is both an issue of management of a cultural resource for the present and future, but also as a key concept in understanding the relationship between the host environment and historic society. This reflexive relationship is crucial to inform future practice and research in sustainable development and cultural environment management, and for promoting cultural diversity, sustainability literacy and education. Heritage is embedded in place and forms a strong link between humans and local landscapes. Heritage thus provides an important avenue to place based learning, education for sustainability, and developing a genuine sense of stewardship and management for the long term future. With ever diminishing resources, especially with respect to the impacts of climate change, there is now a real need for innovation in methods of assessing, monitoring, and valuing heritage, for developing new approaches to education and heritage and, moreover, for critically appraising what the past can contribute to the future sustainability of society.

Northern Studies content

Northern Studies

Northern Studies

Interdisciplinary research centre - preserving, rediscovering and interpreting the cultural heritage of Scotland and the wider Northern world.

The Institute for Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands is a world leading research and teaching centre which was rated first in Scotland for research impact and fifth equal with the University of Oxford across the UK in the Research Excellence Framework Exercise in 2014. We are internationally renowned for our innovative postgraduate teaching and research programmes in Orkney and Shetland Studies, Highlands and Islands Literature, Viking Studies, Islands Studies and Scottish Heritage.

Established in 2007, we operate from three key locations at Orkney, Shetland, and Perth Colleges UHI. We also work closely with both Orkney College UHI and Shetland College UHI and their associated learning centres and island communities. All of our programmes are delivered using a mixture of online and video-conferencing, with students studying from Australia, Canada, the UK and the rest of Europe. Our taught programmes are:

  • BA (Hons) Culture and Heritage
  • MLitt Highlands and Islands Literature
  • MLitt Island Studies
  • MLitt Orkney and Shetland Studies
  • MLitt Scottish Heritage
  • MLitt Viking Studies

Our staff also supervise MRes and PhD students researching various aspects of the history and culture of the regions of Scotland, with specialisms in archaeology, medieval history, literature and art, placename studies and with the history and culture of the North Atlantic regions.


Our Expertise

Our expert staff are able to offer interdisciplinary and subject specific supervision, and are actively engaged in research, in the following subject areas:

  • Viking Studies
  • Medieval and modern history and culture of Scotland
  • Links between Scotland and the Nordic world
  • The history and culture of the Scottish islands within the North Atlantic region
  • Highlands and Islands Literature
  • Island Studies
  • Scottish heritage
  • The languages and dialects of Orkney and Shetland
  • Pictish studies

Find out more about Shetland’s Norse heritage with the Institute for Northern Studies - University of the Highlands and Islands (