Shetland (formerly spelled Zetland, from Ȝetland; Old Norse Hjaltland; Scottish Gaelic: Sealtainn) is an archipelago off the northeast coast of mainland Scotland. The islands lie to the northeast of Orkney, 280 km (170 mi) from the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total area is approximately 1,466 km² (566 sq mi). Shetland constitutes one of the 32 council areas of Scotland. The islands' administrative centre and only burgh is Lerwick.
The largest island, known as "the Mainland," has an area of 967 km² (374 sq mi), making it the third-largest Scottish island and the fifth-largest of the British Isles.
Shetland is also a lieutenancy area, comprises the Shetland constituency of the Scottish Parliament, and was formerly a county.
Shetland has been populated since at least 1500 BC. The early people subsisted on cattle-farming and agriculture. During the Bronze Age, around 2000 BC, the climate cooled and the population moved to the coast. During the Iron Age, many stone fortresses were erected, some ruins of which remain today. Around A.D. 297, Roman sources describe a people known as the Picts who ruled much of north Scotland, and Shetland eventually became part of the Pictish kingdom. Shetland's Picts were later conquered by the Vikings. Due to the practice, dating to at least the early Neolithic, of building in stone on the virtually tree-less islands, Shetland is extremely rich in physical remains of all these periods, though fewer are preserved as Ancient Monuments than in Orkney.
The artefacts of all the eras of Shetland's past are best studied by a visit to the newly built (2007) Shetland Museum in Lerwick.
Shetland has a Maritime Subarctic climate. The climate all year round is mild due to the influence of the relative warmth of the surrounding seas, the surface temperature of which falls to 5°C in early March and peaks at 13 to 14°C in late August. However, summers are cool and temperatures over 21°C are rare. The warmest month on record was August 1947, when the average maximum temperature was 17.2°C.
The general character of the climate is windy and cloudy with at least 1mm of rain falling on about 200 days a year. Average yearly precipitation at Lerwick is 1238 mm, with November and December the wettest months, together receiving about a quarter of annual precipitation. Snowfall can occur at any time from July to early June although it seldom lies on the ground for more than a day. Less rain falls from April to August although no month receives less than 50mm. Fog is common in the east of the islands during summer due to the cooling effect of the sea on mild southerly airflows.
There is a wide variation in daylength during the course of the year due the islands' northerly location. On the shortest day at the winter solstice sunlight lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes and this stretches to 23 hours at the summer solstice, with twilight occupying the remainder of the time. However, the remoteness of the islands from warm and dry airflows means that all months are cloudy. Annual sunshine hours average 1065 hours or about 25% daytime so fine days are rare and overcast days are common.
The landscape in Shetland is marked by the grazing of sheep and the rarity of trees. The flora is dominated by Arctic-alpine plants, wild flowers, moss and lichen.
Shetland is the site of one of the largest bird colonies in the North Atlantic, home to more than one million birds. Most birds are found in colonies on Hermaness, Foula, Mousa, Noss, Sumburgh Head and Fair Isle. Some of the birds found on the islands are Atlantic Puffin, Storm-petrel, Northern Lapwing and Winter Wren. Many arctic birds spend the winter on Shetland and among those are Whooper Swan and Great Northern Diver. The Shetland Isles are also the home of the Shetland Sheepdog or 'Sheltie' which is a small, robust but graceful dog.
The geographical isolation and recent glacial history of Shetland have resulted in a depleted mammalian fauna. The wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus L.), along with the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus Berkenhout) and the house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus Schwartz & Schwartz), are one of only three recorded types of rodent present on the island. Based largely on morphological studies of epigenetic variations, the source of the original founding population has been attributed to Norway with the most obvious date of introduction being presumed to be around the 9th century AD with the arrival of the Vikings. However, archaeological evidence now suggests that this species was present during the Middle Iron Age (around 200 BC - AD 400), and one theory proposes that Apodemus was in fact introduced from Orkney where a population had existed since at the least the Bronze Age.
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/
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