Broch of Mousa is the finest preserved Iron Age broch (round tower) in Shetland. It is the tallest still standing in the world and amongst the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe. It is thought to have been constructed circa 100 BC, one of 570 brochs built throughout Scotland. The site is managed by Historic Scotland.

It has one of the smallest overall diameters of any broch, as well as one of the thickest wall bases and smallest interiors; this massive construction (as well as its remote location) is likely to be the main explanation for its excellent state of preservation.

Located on the island of Mousa, it stands 13 m high and is accessible via a single entrance at ground level. Once inside, a visitor may ascend an internal staircase to an open walkway at the top. It is the only broch which is complete right to the top, including the original intramural stair. It is built of dry stone with no mortar, thus any disturbance could cause a great deal of damage. The characteristic hollow-walled construction is very clear at this site.

The broch went through at least two phases of occupation. In its original condition it doubtless contained a complex wooden roundhouse with at least one raised floor resting on a ledge or scarcement 2.1m above the ground. This floor was probably reached by the stone stair inside the wall. A second scarcement about 3.9m up could have supported a second floor or a roof. The entrance passage was low and lintelled with flat slabs and a water tank was cut in the underlying rock. There was also a large rectangular hearth resting on the rock.

Some time later a low stone bench was added round the base of the inside wall and this extended a short way into the entrance passage. The wooden roundhouse may have been demolished at this point; it was certainly demolished before the small wheelhouse (with three projecting stone piers) was built in the interior.

These Norse occupations are probably reflected in the fact that the original low lintels of the broch entrance have been torn out (their stumps can be seen), and the outer doorway doubled in height (it has now been restored to its original low level). This implies that the interior and the entrance were full of debris so the Norsemen had to raise the roof of the passage to get in.

In the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh is a large rim sherd from the broch of Mousa, probably found during the 19th century clearance. It is part of a large Everted Rim jar with a black burnshed outer surface and horizontal fluting along the inner surface of the rim.

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Details

Founded: 100 BC
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in United Kingdom

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User Reviews

Anthony Manmohan (14 months ago)
Need touch to climb to top. Some provided on site.
Rudie Humphrey (14 months ago)
Great boat trip - take midge spray.
Kenneth MacLeod (15 months ago)
The highlight of a great boat trip and walk around the island of Mousa.
Stephen Smith (15 months ago)
Great trip was worth the late night
Rosemary Bruce (15 months ago)
Really informative boat trip there and back with plenty of opportunity for photos of the Broch from the boat. Fantastic weather helped too!
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Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.