Broch of Gurness, Orkney
Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

This evening, my focus is on the Broch of Gurness, Orkney. A broch is a tall, conical shaped tower with concentric circular walls. The structures date from the Iron Age and are unique to Scotland with the majority  of the 500 structures spread throughout northern and western Scotland and the islands. I have visited reasonably well preserved brochs on Skye and Lewis. Brochs appear to be high status dwellings built with defence in mind sitting at the heart of the local community, perhaps along the lines of the role played by stone churches in medieval times.

The broch at Gurness dates from around 200BC on a site with a history of occupation dating back to around 400BC.. The archaeology suggests a circular tower 20 metres in external diameter and up to 10 metres tall. Around the broch grew up a community comprising stone houses, yards and storage sheds. Due to structural weaknesses, this broch partial collapsed resulting in abandonment of the tower around AD100. Subsequently, the site seems to have been occupied by single-family farmsteads until abandonment around AD 600.  A single Viking era burial was made in the  abandoned site around AD850.

An interesting feature of this -and some other broch sites- is a carefully constructed drystone walled well chamber in the broch interior. The structure still contains water but, in common with the other broch sites, it is not clear whether the elaborate structure was purely a water source or used in conjunction with some other purpose.

Broch of Gurness, Orkney
Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland
Broch of Gurness, Orkney
Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

Pictish era ‘Shamrock House’. A small building which probably dates from the later Iron-Age or Pictish era (4th or 5th century AD). This indicates primitive living conditions and hints at the overall decline of the broch site.

Broch of Gurness, Orkney
Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

Overall, an intriguing, if somewhat exposed, site. Well worth a visit and represents one of the important settlements in the rich pool of Orkney archaeology.

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