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Our location, at the crossroads of the North Sea, has resulted in many passing invaders, traders, visitors and settlers influencing island people over the centuries. The greatest abiding influence coming from the Vikings, arriving in the latter half of the 9th century, swamping the resident Picts and still influencing the culture, traditions and dialect of the islands today. Scots and Doric influences have also left their mark, as have Hanseatic traders, visiting seafarers and, more recently, the many nationalities of oil workers of the 1970s and 80s. Today's Shetlander embraces modern technology whilst preserving traditional industries, culture and - a warmth of welcome of which we are very proud!
Neolithic (3,000 BC) The first inhabitants arrived by boat and settled in Shetland. Archaeological evidence shows that these Neolithic settlers were farmers, working the land and rearing domestic animals.
Bronze Age (2,000 BC) Climatic changes bringing more cold and wet weather to the islands led to infertile areas forming on the hills, encouraging farmers to move to the coast. Bronze age people have left their mark in the form of mysterious stone circles and communal cooking sites or ‘burnt mounds’.
Early Iron Age (600 BC) The early Iron Age was a troubled time when defensive brochs were built to house large numbers of people, animals and stores. These impressive stone towers are circular with double-walls. The best-preserved broch is on the island of Mousa, reaching an impressive height of 13 metres. Other spectacular and internationally important brochs can be seen at Clickimin and Jarlshof.
Late Iron Age (200 BC) By the late Iron Age, brochs were no longer so important and some were made into family houses. Walls were built within the brochs to create a wheelhouse with alcoves surrounding a central fire hearth. Well-preserved examples of these can be seen at Jarlshof and Clickimin.
Picts (7 AD) Around 7th century AD, It was inhabited by people known as the Picts. Little is known about these people and few traces remain, other than a few beautifully-inscribed stone slabs.
Vikings (900 AD) The first Norsemen who came here were farmers as well as Vikings. They settled on fertile ground overlooking bays and brought with them a new style of building, a new political system, new laws and a new language.
Norse (1100 AD) The Scandinavian settlers became known as Norse from their ‘Norn’ language. Missionaries arrived in the islands and Christianity spread rapidly.
Medieval (1500 AD) In the late 14th century, Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united under a Danish king and in 1469 it was pledged to Scotland as part of the marriage dowry of Margaret, daughter of the King of Denmark, on her marriage to King James III of Scotland.
Scottish influence gradually became more dominant and, in 1564, Mary Queen of Scots granted control and revenues from Orkney and here to her half-brother Robert Stewart who was succeeded by his son, Patrick. Both imposed heavy taxes on the people of this place. Earl Patrick was eventually executed in Edinburgh for treason.
Around the coastline, hundreds of species of birds can be seen, and the towering cliffs are a metropolis for over a million seabirds. The endearingly cute puffins number around 350,000, and they share the sea and the sky with gulls, great skuas (known locally as bonxies), fulmars, gannets, storm petrels, shags, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, cormorants, arctic terns, and many others. kittiwakes, razorbills, cormorants, arctic terns, and many others. The largest seabird colonies are on the internationally important bird reserves of Hermaness, Noss and Sumburgh Head.
Many birds breed inland, like the lapwing, skylark, meadow pipit, wheatear, red-throated diver, merlin, whimbrel and, on the RSPB reserve in Fetlar, the rare red-necked phalarope. A diverse range of marine mammals are found in Shetland's rich waters. About 6,000 common and over 3,000 grey seals can be found around Shetland's coastline. The common seal can be seen in sheltered voes while the grey seal is found along more exposed coasts and in deeper water. Mousa, Scatness and Sumburgh Head are home to both species.
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