“OUR prehistoric treasures on Shetland are absolutely amazing, up there with Orkney,” beams Laurie Goodlad, passionate Shetland tour guide and writer, as we survey a scene that hurls me back millennia at otherworldly Jarlshof. This remarkable oasis is just one of a trio of sites that have just been shortlisted this week to become the Unesco World Heritage listed "Zenith of Iron Age Shetland".

Goodlad is right – that Shetland’s sites are deserving can surely not be in doubt, with the Unesco bid insisting all three are of "Outstanding Universal Value". I’ve visited this remarkable trio many times and not only have I been blown away on every occasion, but I’ve also uncovered new things to astound each time and indeed been surprised how on earth these Iron Age treasures are not swamped with tourists, like can happen with Orkney’s prehistoric superstars like Skara Brae.

The Skara Brae comparison is an apposite one with Jarlshof. This coastal oasis is strikingly similar: Jarlshof too is hunkered down in the dunes overlooking a white sand beach, breezes blowing across its layers of history as oystercatchers chirp overhead and marine mammals patrol just offshore. Here you enjoy a window into life many millennia ago; the difference at Jarlshof is that you can still actually eke through the houses. Get stuck right into history.

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We are lucky today that Shetlanders all those millennia ago were seriously unlucky. Not for them the luxury of vast forests waiting to be chopped down for construction – they had to heave and tackle solid stone to build their worlds, meaning it is still preserved, while many Iron Age buildings on the mainland have rotted away. Panning wider, Shetland’s trio form the zenith of prehistoric architectural achievement in Northern Europe, each showcasing a distinctive facet of Iron Age architecture; all united in demonstrating the determination and ingenuity of man.

Unesco on their "Tentative List" rate Shetland “for its monumental Northern European Iron Age architecture, which spans a period of more than 1000 years and which is key to the emergence of Europe from the prehistoric period into the medieval and, subsequently modern, worlds.” They continue: “The three parts of the site demonstrates what was happening in Europe outside the Roman Empire and shows the progression of architecture and design over that period”.

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Jarlshof is glorious in that it is not just one site, but a time machine that swirls you around the millennia. Its treasures span over 4000 years, with the best surviving examples anywhere of Iron Age wheelhouses, plus Pictish and Viking settlements. Fortunately Jarlshof has been maintained and preserved by man since the late 19th century. It blew my mind when a guide told me, “simply put you won’t find a comparable Viking township, even in Scandinavia”.

The complex Iron Age and Pictish village at Old Scatness lies within a mile of Jarlshof. It features the large, single-walled, stone-built roundhouses that succeeded brochs. Iron Age man thrived here for than 1000 years – we have here a rare window into how broch society developed.

The Old Scatness excavation was a pioneering one using new scientific techniques, testing theories on the dating and stories beyond our brochs, and being ultra-careful to record photogrammetrically as the dig progressed. The reconstructions are built on well-honed archaeological knowledge, using skilled drystone dyke craftspeople, which has taught us much about how Iron Age structures emerged.

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Moving on to Mousa (above) we come to a site like no other in Scotland. In fact, in the world. Easily Scotland’s best-preserved broch has forged skywards on its own rugged island for over 2000 years, a bouncy boat-trip from the shore I’ve made twice. Once I stayed late into the night in June to witness the storm petrels swooping in to feed their young – a deeply special experience.

We know broch means "fortified place" in Old Norse, but there is still so much we don’t know about these broad, hulking, circular, double-skinned, drystone towers. We do tantalisingly know brochs dominated the landscape of Iron Age Northern and Western Scotland – Shetland alone had over 100!

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Mousa Broch is no recent reconstruction. Indeed the corbelling recently found at the wallheads confirms its authenticity and that any work during earlier digs was purely remedial. All the photos and paintings we have – man has long been fascinated by Mousa – testify to this. There is so much that is special about all three sites as I hope Unesco are about to recognise. If you haven’t been I would hotfoot it to

Shetland before the Unesco box ticking visitors arrive. One day you may no longer be able to walk right down through the prehistoric village at Jarlshof.

More information – www.visitscotland.com.