The Broch of Burrian is an Iron Age structure, which stands on a small headland next to a rocky shoreline. It is separated from the hinterland by a series of defensive earthworks.

The broch has an external diameter of 18 metres and an internal diameter of 9.5 metres. The entrance passage is on the southeast side, and the walls are solid. There is a small room in the inner wall of the broch on the northeast side. The broch is surrounded by outer defences consisting of the remains of four concentric ramparts on the landward side.

The Broch of Burrian was excavated by William Traill, proprietor of the island, in 1870 and 1871. A large number of artefacts, including a significant quantity of worked bone objects, were discovered. In addition, a number of artefacts of early historic or Pictish date were found. These include a cross-slab with ogham inscription, painted pebbles and part of an iron bell of Celtic type. Part of a Pictish house was uncovered to the north east side of the broch. The finds are now in the National Museum of Scotland.

The evidence suggests two phases of occupation, both dating to the Iron Age. In the second phase, the broch was converted into a sort of wheelhouse. The second phase went on for a long time, as there were clear Pictish elements among the finds, from as late as the 7th to the 9th centuries AD. Two items (the cross-slab and the iron bell) suggest early Christian activity, although there is as yet no other evidence for monastic settlement.

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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.