An ancient cremation cemetery has been uncovered at the SaxaVord Spaceport site in the Shetland Islands, off the coast of Scotland.

– SaxaVord

The discovery, made during development works for the ground station and satellite launch site, includes several pits, boulders, cremations, and quartz settings. Archaeologists are currently excavating the area, and have hypothesized that the remains may date between 2200-1800 BC.

Katie O’Connell of AOC Archaeology said that the variety of findings could suggest that it was the site of a complex ritual.

The SaxaVard Spaceport is located on the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst, the Shetland Islands. Upon completion, the site will be home to a ground station with an array of 1.5m to 3.7m antennas supporting low earth polar and sun-synchronous orbits and operating in frequency bands ranging from UHF/VHF to S & X band.

Despite the discoveries on the site, the development remains ongoing.

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO Frank Strang said: “This is a tremendously exciting discovery and we will be supporting further study of the remains to find out the full story.

“With Unst’s Viking heritage, we had always thought of the timespan from the longship to the spaceship. Now we know there has been activity on our site for more than 4,000 years it’s the Bronze Age to the Space Age.”

Dr. Val Turner, Shetland’s regional archaeologist, said: “I’ve always suspected that some of Shetland’s rings of boulders and low stones found could in fact be Bronze Age cremation cemeteries, so it is hugely exciting to be proved right.

“The Bronze Age is perhaps the period of Shetland’s past which we know least about and this is a wonderful opportunity to change that. With the modern techniques available now, we can potentially find out far more about the individuals who lived and died here than we could have discovered even 20 years ago. Hats off to the archaeologists from AOC who spotted this in the watching brief.”

The discovery itself is not a complete surprise, however. In 2021 Historical Environment Scotland (HES) actually blocked the spaceport development as it was located on a one-to-one overlap of a historic monument. The following year, HES withdrew its complaint, stating that it "recognized the benefits that this development will bring the community."

The SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, in addition to ground station services and connection to the SaxaVord network, will also offer a satellite launch site with three launch pads.

The Spaceport (originally called the Shetland Space Centre) was approved by the UK Space Agency in 2020 and is being developed by Lockheed Martin which will also use the site as its UK base for launches. According to the 2020 announcement, the site will create ‘hundreds’ of space jobs. In the 2011 census, the island only had 632 residents.

In January 2023, Rocket Factory Augsburg signed a multi-year launch agreement with SaxaVord giving them exclusive access to the northernmost launch pad. The first launch is scheduled for late 2023.

The SavaVord ground station network is planned to have sites in Greenland, Alaska, Finland, the Falkland Islands, and Antarctica in addition to the Unst facility.