Crosskirk Broch was a fortification near the present day hamlet of Crosskirk. 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.

Crosskirk was occupied at the end of the Bronze Age. From the early Iron Age that followed there is carinated pottery that appears to be locally made but is similar to pottery of the same period in southern and eastern England. A few samples are black-burnished. Uncorrected radiocarbon dates for this pottery are in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. There seems to be a discontinuity in the middle Iron Age when the buildings were reconstructed and new types of pottery and artifacts were introduced, although variants of some of the older styles continued. This may be interpreted as being due to the infux of some influential new population.

Further use of local pottery continued into the period of Roman occupation of the south of Scotland in 80-180 AD. There were also remains of Roman pottery and glassware that may have been Roman in origin. A body was buried in a sitting position in the middle of an approximately circular building around the time that the site was abandoned. No grave goods were found.

There are traces of two long cist burials in the debris of the broch from some time around 600 AD. There used to be a stone with a runic inscription at Crosskirk, now lost, dating from the period of the Norse raiders in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. St Mary's Chapel (Crosskirk), built around the 13th century and now ruined, is about 27 m south of the site. Some of the land south of the broch was levelled when St Mary's was built. In recent times, some of the stones from the broch mound were removed, perhaps for building field dykes.

The promontory fort predated the broch, which was built inside the older structure. The earlier structure was an outwork that began at the edge of the promontory in the east, a 4.6 m thick wall or rampart of rock with an earth core. A gateway that widened towards the outside provided access through the wall. To the west of the gateway the rampart included a structure like a cell, and then there was a recess in the inner face of the wall. The outwork continued west, ending in a fence made of flagstones that reached to the cliff edge at Chapel Geo.

Based on radiocarbon dates, the broch was built around 200 BC, and was still in use in the second century AD. The broch would have given an impression of great strength, rising above the existing defensive wall. It included a guard cell, an intramural chamber and a stair entrance at ground level. Although the wall of the broch was relatively thick, it was poorly built, with a core of earth, rubble and boulders. This may be interpreted as being an early, experimental broch design. The roundhouse was not built strongly enough to support a tower more than 4.5 metres, half the height of later towers.

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

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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.