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A History Nerd Will Get to Spend the Summer Guiding Visitors Through 4,000 Years of History

Jarlshof in the Shetland Islands is looking for a guide to take visitors through its Stone, Bronze and Iron Age, Pictish, Viking and Scottish ruins

(Historic Environment Scotland)
smithsonian.com

For many historic sites, a day trip is more than enough to get the gist. But there are some areas that are hard to absorb during a guided tour or a few hours reading display boards. One of those spots is Jarlshof, an ancient settlement that looks like a "Game of Thrones" set perched on a small promontory on the mainland of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. The little spit of land was occupied by successive cultures for an incredible 4,000 years. Now, some lucky history nerd gets to revel in it all for the summer.

As Alison Campsie at The Scotsman reports, the site is advertising for a part-time steward, a position that involves tidying up the site, offering guided tours, selling trinkets and admission tickets and informing visitors about the site's incredible history. It’s quite a story. In the late 1800s, a huge storm blew through the Shetland Islands, exposing the remains of what looked like a small Neolithic settlement. The owner of the site, John Bruce conducted his own investigations between 1897 and 1905 before professional archaeologists came digging.

In 1957, the first major publication about the site was released, revealing that Jarlshof was first colonized by Stone Age Scots, perhaps as early as 2,500 B.C. Then, archaeologists found the remains of two Bronze Age huts from between 2,000 and 800 B.C., connected by an underground passage called a souterrain which may have been used for cold storage. Another souterrain off one of the huts may have been used to store grain, and signs of metalsmithing of axes, knives and other metal goods were also found.

During the Iron Age the inhabitants built a large broch, a type of roundhouse only found in Scotland, that is currently being washed into the sea. The purpose of the structures are not clear, but brochs were likely defensive forts or prestigious homes for local rulers. When the Jarlshof broch was no longer of use, later Iron Age inhabitants dismantled part of it to use the stones to build four wheelhouses, smaller types of roundhouses a smaller style of roundhouse also unique to the region.

There are indications that the Picts, one of Scotland’s most influential but least understood cultures then occupied the site. One of the most significant layers of Jarlshof is a Norse settlement that was likely established sometime in the 9th century. Remains of several longhouses that were expanded and modified over time are at the site. By the Medieval period, Jarlshof had transformed into a farmstead with a stone house, barn and other farming facilities before being upgraded into a manor house in the 1500s. In the early 1600s it was improved even more and was given the name the "Old House of Sumburgh," the name of the nearby and present-day settlement. By the end of that century, however, the house had fallen into ruins, the only visible marker of Jarlshof’s incredible centuries of occupation. But the story doesn't end there. The site earned its name Jarlshof or "Earl's House" in 1822 after the ruins of the Sumburgh house served as the inspiration for a manor home in Sir Walter Scott's 1822 novel, The Pirate. The fictional name stuck and remains what the area is known as today.

So, if you think you can get that story straight, this might be the right gig for you. And if you can't, well, you might want to sign up for the guided tour.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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