Orkney and Shetland Islands Brochs
.The best preserved are in the Northern
Isles and date to c500BC. This photograph is of the Clickhimin Broch, Shetland. Brochs are
large stone-built towers. These imposing drystone structures,standing from 5m to 13m high,
were erected for defense by the Iron Age tribes of Northern Britain. They are some of the
most impressive works of prehistoric man in Western Europe.
A typical broch was a circular, two-story stone-built drystone structure accessed by a
single door at ground level. Where it is possible that some brochs were no more than
fortified dwellings, the majority undoubtedly had a defensive function, characterised by
immensely thick outer walls. These walls comprised of two layers of stone with a hollow
space in between. These two outer "skins" were bonded are certain heights by
stone lintel slabs. This method allowed the broch's constructors to build to a greater
height than could have been achieved with solid walls. Their position, often near fertile
land, their height and outlook over the landscape all lead one to think that they are
status symbols; with the local chief showing off his wealth and power. Shetland had quite
a high population in the Iron Age, and if these brochs were built to solely protect the
native population from outside attackers, they would have been unable to protect a very
high percentage of the people.
Brochs were sometimes (e.g. Old
Scatness in Shetland) located close to arable land and a source of water
(some have deep wells or natural springs rising within their central space).
Sometimes, on the other hand, they were sited in wilderness areas (e.g.
Levenwick and Culswick in Shetland, Castle Cole in Sutherland). Brochs are
often built beside the sea; sometimes they are on islands in lochs (e.g.
Clickimin in Shetland).
Most brochs are unexcavated, but most of those that have been properly
examined do show that they continued in use for many centuries - although
the interiors were often modified and changed, and they underwent many
phases of habitation and abandonment. The end of the broch period par
excellence seems to have come around AD 200-300.
Whatever current thought is, brochs are nevertheless very
impressive features of the Shetland archaeological landscape.