A broch ( /ˈbrɒx/) is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure found in Scotland. Brochs belong to the classification "complex atlantic roundhouse" devised by Scottish archaeologists in the 1980s. Their origin is a matter of some controversy.

Dun Carloway
Dun Carloway broch, Lewis, Scotland

Origin and definition

The word broch is derived from Lowland Scots 'brough', meaning (among other things) fort. In the mid-19th century Scottish antiquaries called brochs 'burgs', after Old Norse borg, with the same meaning. Place names in Scandinavian Scotland such as Burgawater and Burgan show that Old Norse borg is the older word used for these structures in the north. Brochs are often referred to as duns in the west. Antiquarians began to use the spelling broch in the 1870s.

A precise definition for the word has proved elusive. Brochs are the most spectacular of a complex class of roundhouse buildings found throughout Atlantic Scotland. The Shetland Amenity Trust lists about 120 sites in Shetland as candidate brochs, while the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) identifies a total of 571 candidate broch sites throughout the country. Researcher Euan MacKie has proposed a much smaller total for Scotland of 104.[1]

The origin of brochs is a subject of continuing research. Sixty years ago most archaeologists believed that brochs, usually regarded as the 'castles' of Iron Age chieftains, were built by immigrants who had been pushed northward after being displaced first by the intrusions of Belgic tribes into what is now southeast England at the end of the second century BC and later by the Roman invasion of southern Britain beginning in AD 43. Yet there is now little doubt that the hollow-walled broch tower was purely an invention in what is now Scotland; even the kinds of pottery found inside them that most resembled south British styles were local hybrid forms. The first of the modern review articles on the subject (MacKie 1965)[2] did not, as is commonly believed, propose that brochs were built by immigrants, but rather that a hybrid culture formed from the blending of a small number of immigrants with the native population of the Hebrides produced them in the first century BC, basing them on earlier, simpler, promontory forts. This view contrasted, for example, with that of Sir W. Lindsay Scott, who argued,[3] following Childe (1935),[4] for a wholesale migration into Atlantic Scotland of people from southwest England.

MacKie's theory has fallen from favour too, mainly because starting in the 1970s there was a general move in archaeology away from 'diffusionist' explanations towards those pointing to exclusively indigenous development. Meanwhile, the increasing number – albeit still pitifully few – of radiocarbon dates for the primary use of brochs (as opposed to their later, secondary use) still suggests that most of the towers were built in the 1st centuries BC and AD.[5] A few may be earlier, notably the one proposed for Old Scatness Broch in Shetland, where a sheep bone dating to 390–200 BC has been reported.[6]

The other broch claimed to be substantially older than the 1st century BC is Crosskirk in Caithness, but a recent review of the evidence suggests that it cannot plausibly be assigned a date earlier than the 1st centuries BC/AD.[7][8]


Overview of the distribution of brochs.

The distribution of brochs is centred on northern Scotland. Caithness, Sutherland and the Northern Isles have the densest concentrations, but there are a great many examples in the west of Scotland and the Hebrides. Although mainly concentrated in the northern Highlands and the Islands, a few examples occur in the Borders (for example Edin's Hall Broch and Bow Castle Broch); on the west coast of Dumfries and Galloway; and near Stirling. In a c.1560 sketch there appears to be a broch by the river next to Annan Castle in Dumfries and Galloway.[9] This small group of southern brochs has never been satisfactorily explained.


Kilphedir broch
The remains of Kilphedir broch, Sutherland, are surrounded by massive earthworks.

The original interpretation of brochs, favoured by nineteenth century antiquarians, was that they were defensive structures, places of refuge for the community and their livestock. They were sometimes regarded as the work of Danes or Picts. From the 1930s to the 1960s, archaeologists such as V. Gordon Childe and later John Hamilton[10] regarded them as castles where local landowners held sway over a subject population.

The castle theory fell from favour among Scottish archaeologists in the 1980s, due to a lack of supporting archaeological evidence. These archaeologists suggested defensibility was never a major concern in the siting of a broch, and argued that they may have been the "stately homes" of their time, objects of prestige and very visible demonstrations of superiority for important families (Armit 2003). Once again, however, there is a lack of archaeological proof for this reconstruction, and the sheer number of brochs, sometimes in places with a lack of good land, makes it problematic.

Brochs' close groupings and profusion in many areas may indeed suggest that they had a primarily defensive or even offensive function. Some of them were sited beside precipitous cliffs and were protected by large ramparts, artificial or natural: a good example is at Burland near Gulberwick in Shetland, on a clifftop and cut off from the mainland by huge ditches. Often they are at key strategic points. In Shetland they sometimes cluster on each side of narrow stretches of water: the broch of Mousa, for instance, is directly opposite another at Burraland in Sandwick. In Orkney there are more than a dozen on the facing shores of Eynhallow Sound, and many at the exits and entrances of the great harbour of Scapa Flow. In Sutherland quite a few are placed along the sides and at the mouths of deep valleys. Writing in 1956 John Stewart suggested that brochs were forts put up by a military society to scan and protect the countryside and seas.[11]

Finally, some archaeologists consider broch sites individually, doubting that there ever was a single common purpose for which every broch was constructed. There are differences between the various areas in which brochs are found, with regard to position, dimensions and likely status. For example, the broch "villages" which occur at a few places in Orkney have no parallel in the Western Isles.


Generally, brochs have a single entrance with bar-holes, door-checks and lintels. There are mural cells and there is a scarcement (ledge), perhaps for timber-framed lean-to dwellings lining the inner face of the wall. Also there is a spiral staircase winding upwards between the inner and outer wall and connecting the galleries.[12] Brochs vary from 5 to 15 metres (16–50 ft) in internal diameter, with 3 metre (10 ft) thick walls. On average, the walls only survive to a few metres in height. There are five extant examples of towers with significantly higher walls: Dun Carloway on Lewis, Dun Telve and Dun Troddan in Glenelg, Mousa in Shetland and Dun Dornaigil in Sutherland, all of whose walls exceed 6.5 m (21 ft) in height.[13]

Mousa's walls are the best preserved and are still 13 m tall; it is not clear how many brochs originally stood this high. A frequent characteristic is that the walls are galleried: with an open space between, the outer and inner wall skins are separate but tied together with linking stone slabs; these linking slabs may in some cases have served as steps to higher floors. It is normal for there to be a cell breaking off from the passage beside the door; this is known as the guard cell. It has been found in some Shetland brochs that guard cells in entrance passageways are close to large door-check stones. Although there was much argument in the past, it is now generally accepted among archaeologists that brochs were roofed, perhaps with a conical timber framed roof covered with a locally sourced thatch. The evidence for this assertion is still fairly scanty, although excavations at Dun Bharabhat, Lewis, may support it. The main difficulty with this interpretation continues to be the potential source of structural timber, though bog and driftwood may have been plentiful sources.

The remains of Feranch broch, Sutherland

On the islands of Orkney and Shetland there are very few cells at ground floor. Most brochs have scarcements (ledges) which may have allowed the construction of a very sturdy wooden first floor (first spotted by the antiquary George Low in Shetland in 1774), and excavations at Loch na Berie on the Isle of Lewis show signs of a further, second floor (e.g. stairs on the first floor, which head upwards). Some brochs such as Dun Dornaigil and Culswick in Shetland have unusual triangular lintels above the entrance door.[14][15]

As in the case of Old Scatness in Shetland (near Jarlshof and Burroughston on Shapinsay), brochs were sometimes located close to arable land and a source of water (some have wells or natural springs rising within their central space).[16] 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 (Carn Liath, Sutherland); sometimes they are on islands in lochs (e.g. Clickimin in Shetland).

About 20 Orcadian broch sites include small settlements of stone buildings surrounding the main tower. Examples include Howe, near Stromness, Gurness Broch in the north west of Mainland, Orkney, Midhowe on Rousay and Lingro near Kirkwall (destroyed in the 1980s). There are "broch village" sites in Caithness, but elsewhere they are unknown.[17]

Most brochs are unexcavated.[18] Those that have been properly examined show that they continued to be in use for many centuries, with the interiors often modified and changed, and that they underwent many phases of habitation and abandonment. The end of the broch building period seems to have come around AD 100–200. [19][20]

Scotland Glenelg broch
Dun Telve broch, Glenelg

Heritage status

The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland's Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof sites are on the United Kingdom "Tentative List" of possible nominations for the UNESCO World Heritage Programme list of sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humankind. This list, published in July 2010, includes sites that may be nominated for inscription over the next 5–10 years.[21]

See also

References and footnotes

General references
  • Armit, I. (1991) The Atlantic Scottish Iron Age: five levels of chronology, Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. v. 121, pp. 181–214; ISSN 0081-1564
  • Armit, I. (1996) The Archaeology of Skye and the Western Isles, Edinburgh University Press; ISBN 0-7486-0640-8
  • Armit, I. (2003) Towers in the North: The Brochs of Scotland, Stroud : Tempus; ISBN 0-7524-1932-3
  • Ballin Smith, B. and Banks, I. (eds) (2002) In the Shadow of the Brochs, the Iron Age in Scotland, Stroud: Tempus; ISBN 0-7524-2517-X
  • Fojut, N. (1982) Towards a Geography of Shetland Brochs, Glasgow Archaeological Journal, v. 9, pp. 38–59; ISSN 0305-8980
  • Harding, D.W. (2000) The Hebridean Iron Age: Twenty Years’ Research, University of Edinburgh Department of Archaeology, Occasional Paper No. 20; ISSN 0144-3313
  • Harding, D.W. (2004) The Iron Age in Northern Britain, London : Routledge; ISBN 0-415-30150-5
Specific references and notes
  1. ^ Armit (2003) p. 16.
  2. ^ MacKie, E. W. (1965) 'The origin and development of the broch and wheelhouse building cultures of the Scottish Iron Age'. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 31, pp. 93–146.
  3. ^ Scott, Sir Lindsay (1947), 'The problem of the brochs', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 13, pages 1–36.
  4. ^ Childe, V. G. (1935) The Prehistory of Scotland. London.
  5. ^ Parker Pearson, M. & Sharples, N. et al. (1999) Between land and sea: excavations at Dun Vulan, South Uist. Sheffield.
  6. ^ Dockrill, S. J., Outram, Z. and Batt, C. M. (2006) Time and place: a new chronology for the origin of the broch based on the scientific dating programme at the Old Scatness Broch, Shetland, PSAS, v. 136, pp. 89-110; ISSN 0081-1564
  7. ^ MacKie, E. W. (2007) The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c. 700 BC – AD 500: architecture and material culture. Part 2 The Mainland and the Western Islands. British Archaeological Reports British Series. Oxford.
  8. ^ For the C14 dates for the Shetland sites see Shetland Amenity Trust Archived 4 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 August 2007.
  9. ^ Scotland. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions; Maxwell, Herbert (14 May 2018). "Seventh report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Dumfries". Edinburgh : H.M. Stationery Off. Archived from the original on 31 August 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Hamilton, J.R.C. (1968) Excavations at Clickhimin, Shetland. Edinburgh.
  11. ^ Stewart, J. (1956) An Outline of Shetland Archaeology, Lerwick: Shetland Times Ltd.
  12. ^ Prehistoric Scotland (R.W. Feachem, 1992)
  13. ^ Armit (2003) p. 55.
  14. ^ "Dun Dornaigil" Archived 10 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine The Megalithic Portal. Retrieved 11 May 2008.
  15. ^ "Culswick" Archived 13 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine RockStanza; retrieved 11 May 2008.
  16. ^ Hogan, C. Michael (7 October 2007) Burroughston Broch Archived 10 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine The Megalithic Portal; retrieved 11 May 2008.
  17. ^ Armit (2003) pp. 95-106.
  18. ^ Armit (2003) p. 51 notes that of 140 Atlantic roundhouses in the Outer Hebrides only 14 have been "at least partially excavated".
  19. ^ The Macmillan Encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Market House Books, Ltd. 2003 – via Credo Reference.
  20. ^ Mackie, Euan W. (2010). "THE BROCH CULTURES OF ATLANTIC SCOTLAND. PART 2.THE MIDDLE IRON AGE: HIGH NOON AND DECLINE c. 200BC–AD 550". Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  21. ^ From Chatham to Chester and Lincoln to the Lake District – 38 UK places put themselves forward for World Heritage status, United Kingdom Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 7 July 2010, archived from the original on 13 July 2010, retrieved 7 July 2010

Further reading

  • Armit, Ian (2002), Towers in the North: The Brochs of Scotland. The History Press. ISBN 0752419323
  • MacKie, E W 1992 The Iron Age semibrochs of Atlantic Scotland: a case study in the problems of deductive reasoning. Archaeol Journ 149 (1991), 149–81.
  • MacKie, E W 1995a Gurness and Midhowe brochs in Orkney: some problems of misinterpretation. Archaeol Journ 151 (1994), 98–157.
  • MacKie, E W 1995b The early Celts in Scotland. Miranda Green (ed) The Celtic World. Routledge, London: 654-70.
  • MacKie, E W 1997 Dun Mor Vaul re-visited, J.N.G. Ritchie (ed) The Archaeology of Argyll. Edinburgh: 141-80.
  • MacKie, E W 1998 Continuity over three thousand years of northern prehistory: the ‘tel’ at Howe, Orkney. Antiq Journ 78, 1–42.
  • MacKie, E W 2000 The Scottish Atlantic Iron Age: indigenous and isolated or part of a wider European world? 99–116 in Jon C Henderson (ed) The Prehistory and Early History of Atlantic Europe. BAR International Series 861: Oxford.
  • MacKie, E W 2002a Excavations at Dun Ardtreck, Skye, in 1964 and 1965. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 131 (2000), 301–411.
  • MacKie, E W 2002b The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c. 700 BC – AD 500: architecture and material culture. Part 1 The Orkney and Shetland Isles. British Archaeological Reports British Series 342. Oxford.
  • MacKie, E. W. 2005 119. Scottish brochs at the start of the new millennium, 11–31 in Turner, Val E, Nicholson, Rebecca A, Dockrill, S J & Bond, Julie M (eds.) Tall stories? Two millennia of brochs. Lerwick.
  • Ritchie, J N G (1998), Brochs of Scotland. Shire Publications. ISBN 0747803897
  • Hunter, Mollie, The Stronghold, an historical novel about the building of the first broch.

External links

Brigitte Broch

Brigitte Broch (born November 21, 1943) is a German-Mexican production designer.

Broch of Borwick

The Broch of Borwick is an Iron Age broch located on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland (grid reference HY22411678). It is a scheduled monument.

Broch of Burrian

The Broch of Burrian is an Iron Age broch located on North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands, in Scotland (grid reference HY76275138).

Broch of Clickimin

The Broch of Clickimin (also Clickimin Broch) is a large, well-preserved but restored broch in Lerwick in Shetland, Scotland (grid reference HU46434082). Originally built on an island in Clickimin Loch, it was approached by a stone causeway. The broch is situated within a walled enclosure and, unusually for brochs, features a large "forework" or "blockhouse" between the opening in the enclosure and the broch itself. The site is maintained by Historic Scotland. According to its excavator, John R.C. Hamilton, there were several periods of occupation of the site: Late Bronze Age farmstead, Early Iron Age farmstead, Iron Age fort, broch period, and wheelhouse settlement.

Broch of Culswick

The Broch of Culswick (also Culswick Broch) is an unexcavated coastal broch in the Shetland Islands of Scotland (grid reference HU25384481). It has good views all around, including Foula and Vaila isles, and Fitful Head and Fair Isle in the south. The broch stands on the top of a rock platform and is about 3 metres high at its tallest point. Much rubble has fallen into the centre. This broch has a massive triangular lintel stone over the entrance, which is partly filled with rubble. Drawings by Low in 1774 and Skene in 1805 reveal that the structure survived very well up to those dates.

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village on the northeast coast of Mainland Orkney in Scotland overlooking Eynhallow Sound, about 15 miles north-west of Kirkwall. It once housed a substantial community.

Broch of Mousa

Broch of Mousa (or Mousa Broch) is a preserved Iron Age broch or round tower. It is on the island of Mousa in Shetland, Scotland. It is the tallest broch still standing and amongst the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe. It is thought to have been constructed c. 100 BC, one of more than 500 brochs built in Scotland. The site is managed by Historic Environment Scotland as a scheduled monument.

Broch of West Burrafirth

The Broch of West Burrafirth is an Iron Age broch located on the west side of Mainland, Shetland (grid reference HU25625720).

Burroughston Broch

Burroughston Broch is an Iron Age broch located on the island of Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands, in Scotland (grid reference HY54062100). The site overlooks the North Sea on the northeast part of Shapinsay. Excavated in the mid 19th century, Burroughston Broch is still well-preserved. The drystone walls are up to four metres thick in some parts and there is a complete chamber intact off the entrance passage. Some remains of stone fittings are evident in the interior.

Carn Liath (broch)

Càrn Liath (English: Grey Cairn) is an Iron Age broch on the eastern shore of the Scottish Highlands, near Golspie, Sutherland.

Crosskirk Broch

Crosskirk Broch was a fortification near the present day hamlet of Crosskirk near Thurso, Caithness, Scotland. After thorough archaeological exploration it was destroyed in 1972 since the site had become unsafe due to sea erosion. The site was unusual in having a broch, a large circular fortification, built within an older promontory fortification with a ring wall and blockhouse.

Dun Carloway

Dun Carloway (Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Chàrlabhaigh) is a broch situated in the district of Carloway, on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, Scotland (grid reference NB18994122). It is a remarkably well preserved broch - on the east side parts of the old wall still reach to 9 metres tall.

Edin's Hall Broch

Edin's Hall Broch (also Edinshall Broch; Odin's Hall Broch) is a 2nd-century broch near Duns in the Borders of Scotland. It is one of very few brochs found in southern Scotland. It is roughly 28 metres in diameter.

Hermann Broch

Hermann Broch (German: [bʁɔx]; November 1, 1886 – May 30, 1951) was a 20th-century Austrian writer, considered one of the major Modernists.

Langdale Broch

Lanndale Broch is an Iron Age broch in Sutherland, Scotland.

List of oldest buildings in Scotland

This article lists the oldest extant freestanding buildings in Scotland. In order to qualify for the list a structure must:

be a recognisable building (defined as any human-made structure used or intended for supporting or sheltering any use or continuous occupancy);

incorporate features of building work from the claimed date to at least 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in height and/or be a listed building.This consciously excludes ruins of limited height, roads and statues. Bridges may be included if they otherwise fulfill the above criteria. Dates for many of the oldest structures have been arrived at by radiocarbon dating and should be considered approximate.

The main chronological list includes buildings that date from no later than 1199 AD. Although the oldest building on the list is the Neolithic farmhouse at Knap of Howar, the earliest period is dominated by chambered cairns, numerous examples of which can be found from the 4th millennium BC through to the early Bronze Age.

Estimates of the number of broch sites throughout the country, which date from the Iron Age, range from just over 100 to over 500. However, only a small percentage are sufficiently well preserved for them to be included here and some of those that could be remain undated.

As there are relatively few structures from the latter half of the first millennium AD and a significant number from the 12th century, the latter group is placed in a sub-list. There are larger numbers of extant qualifying structures from 1200 onwards and separate lists for 13th-century castles and religious buildings are provided. As the oldest buildings in many of the council areas in the more urbanised Central Belt date from after the 14th century a separate list showing oldest buildings by council area is provided.

There is also a supplementary list of qualifying structures for which no confirmed date of construction is available and a short listing of substantial prehistoric structures that are not buildings as defined above.

Midhowe Broch

Midhowe Broch is an iron-age broch located on the west coast of the island of Rousay in the Orkney Islands, in Scotland.

Old Scatness

Old Scatness is an archeological site in the parish of Dunrossness in the South Mainland of Shetland, near Sumburgh Airport consisting of mediaeval, Viking, Pictish, and Iron Age remains. It has been a settlement for thousands of years, each new generation adding buildings, and leveling off old ones. Among the discoveries is an Iron Age broch.

Yvette Broch

Yvette Broch (born 21 December 1990) is a retired Dutch handball player who was member of the Dutch national team.She participated in the 2016 Summer Olympics. She played on the Dutch team at the 2014 European Women's Handball Championship in Hungary and Croatia, and won a silver medal at the 2015 World Championship, when the Dutch team reached the final. She also took part in the 2011 World Women's Handball Championship in Brazil.In August 2018 she decided to suspend her professional handball career, due to exhaustion.She is also known for being a runner up on the fourth season of Holland's Next Top Model.

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