Jarlshof is the best known prehistoric archaeological site in Shetland, Scotland. It lies near the southern tip of the Shetland Mainland and has been described as “one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles”.It contains remains dating from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD.
At the end of the 19th century violent storms tore into a small promontory in the South Mainland, exposing part of a multiperiod settlement, which in time came to be known as Jarlshof.
The earliest remains on the site are late Neolithic houses, followed by Bronze Age houses, two of which have underground passages attached, known as souterrains. These may have served as cold stores. A third souterrain curls beneath the hearth of one of the buildings and might have been for keeping grain dry. Smithing also took place in one of these. A broch was built in the Iron Age: today half of it has been eroded into the sea. The broch was subsequently modified and when it went out of use, at least four wheelhouses were built, partly using stone from the higher levels of the broch. One of these wheelhouses is almost complete and has corbelled cells surviving which demonstrate skilled drystone work.
From 1592 Sumburgh was leased to William Bruce of Symbister. Between 1604 and 1605 the estate fell into the possession of Earl Patrick but soon reverted back to the Bruce family. The property was ransacked by Earl Patrick in 1608 and reduced to ruins by the end of the century. The stones in the courtyard are believed to mark the graves of shipwrecked sailors.