Broch of Gurness

Orkney, United Kingdom

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.

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Address

B9064, Orkney, United Kingdom
See all sites in Orkney

Details

Founded: 500-200 BC
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in United Kingdom

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

Rating

4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Samantha Davies (2 years ago)
What a beautiful, and interesting place to see. To read it's history, and be able to walk around it was amazing. A must see if you're in the area.
Catherine Cowlishaw (2 years ago)
Excellent place to visit. Very atmospheric and bristling with history. Unfortunately the visitor centre was closed when we visited but the broch and other buildings were open and accessible. Good information boards on site too. It's in a beautiful location, with a stroll along the beach very much part of the magic. Essential visit on mainland Orkney.
Kirsty Young (3 years ago)
We met the resident cat! Jumped straight in the car for a cuddle. Stunning place, seals were bobbing in and out. It's just magical. Cat made it better!
Joseph Kincaid (3 years ago)
This is such an interesting site and a great example of how the form changed over time. Very clearly laid out. There is a long access single track road but it has a good surface and the car park is large. Interpretive boards at the start of the site. Unlike Scara Brae you can get inside the site and experience the buildings.
Christopher Reynolds (3 years ago)
This is a truly astonishing site, although the little visitor centre building is currently closed. We booked on an introductory tour with HES which more than made up for the fact the building was closed. Our guide Sarah had clearly researched the site as well as others and was incredibly knowledgeable.
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