Stanydale Temple

  • Near Bixter, mainland, Shetland



The enigmatic and unique Stanydale ‘Temple’ was built between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

It comprises a wall of large stone boulders, some weighing up to 300kg, forming an oval enclosure measuring 14m by 10m.

The design of Stanydale ‘Temple’, is very similar to Neolithic houses and burial cairns in Shetland, but it is twice the size. There are alcoves or cells in the wall spaces, like the bed recesses in prehistoric houses, but larger.

Post-holes in the interior indicate the ‘temple’ may once have had a grand timber roof. Carbonised remains of timber in one of the post-holes reveal the roof was likely made of North American spruce, which would have arrived in Shetland as driftwood – an important building material for Atlantic coastal prehistoric communities.

The monument’s concave façade is almost horned, in a manner similar to nearby chambered cairns. Its entrance passage suggests there may once have been heavy timber doors.

An enigma

Archaeologist Charles Calder, who excavated at Stanydale in 1949, classified the monument as a ‘temple’ due to its similarity to the Neolithic temples of Malta. This link has now been dismissed, though it’s likely Stanydale did have some ritual use.

A polished stone ‘Shetland knife’ and a pile of burnt sheep bones were found at Stanydale, which have been interpreted as ritual objects.

The monument is far too large to have been a house, even for a high-status individual. No domestic rubbish was found at the site.

Other theories for Stanydale’s purpose include:

  • a chieftan’s residence
  • a tribal assembly hall

A Neolithic landscape

Stanydale ‘Temple’ is reached by a short hike from the small car park, past stone burial cairns and piles of stones marking sites of ancient houses.

Like the ‘temple’, these sites consisted of a large main oval room with alcoves and cells set into the side walls. The entrance was at one end, flanked by a stone porch forming a windbreak. They date from 3000 BC to 500 BC.

Opening times

Open year-round.

Historic Scotland


Download our visitor app

Discover more on the go – the Historic Scotland app lets you find out about Scotland’s most iconic places wherever you are.

Plan your visit

More than 20 of our sites are now open. Please book your tickets in advance.

Become a member

Join Historic Scotland to visit our properties free of charge for a full year and support our work at the same time.

Hire a site for filming

Use one of our fantastic locations on your next shoot for an awe-inspiring backdrop to your work.

Learning visits

Our 300+ historic places serve as creative inspiration for all sorts of learning activities – and for learners of all ages.

Search our events

See the past brought to life by the imaginative year-round programme of events at our properties.