Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

This evening, my focus is on the Broch of Gurness, which is  located on the N.E. coast of Mainland Orkney which is the principal island forming part of an archipelago off Scotland’s N.E. coast.

A broch is, usually, 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 have been 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 of Gurness dates from around 200BC on a site with a history of occupation dating back to around 400 BC. 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 suffered a partial collapse resulting in abandonment of the tower around AD 100. Subsequently, the site seems to have been occupied by single-family farmsteads until falling out of use around AD 600.  A single Viking era burial was made in the  abandoned site around AD850.

Within the site was discovered the “Shamrock House”, as it has been christened.This is a typically Pictish design, and was found buried in the rubble on the south-eastern part of the site. The house was subsequently moved, by modern archaeologists, stone by stone, to the right of the modern entrance.

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.

The broch site forms part of Orkney’s rich archaeological heritage and lies about sixteen miles from Kirkwall.

Video clip showing interior of circular tower.

Concentric walls of Broch tower

Broch of Gurness from South

‘Shamrock’ House, Broch of Gurness, Orkney

Landscape view of Broch of Gurness, Orkney, Scotland

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