Brochs

What are brochs?

m005_mousa_broch_2.1140x0
Mousa Broch, Shetland

Brochs are tower-like stone structures, unique to Scotland, dating from c.2000 years ago. Though they are found across Scotland, their primary concentration is along Scotland’s Atlantic Coast.  The most famous brochs: Mousa, Carloway, Dun Telve, Eden’s Hall and Clickimin are substantial double skinned buildings with multiple floors, staircases and intra-mural cells and galleries.

They are the only extant prehistoric buildings in north-west Europe to demonstrate multiple floors. There are, however, a series of contemporary and related architectural forms: duns, homesteads, cashels and ring-forts. Given this profusion of forms, Armit (1991) proposed a three-fold classification under the all encompassing Atlantic Roundhouse title:

  • Simple Atlantic Roundhouses: solid walled substantial roundhouses without architectural elaboration
  • Complex Atlantic Roundhouses: substantial roundhouses with architectural elaboration, stair cases, cells etc
  • Broch Towers: substantial roundhouses with architectural elaboration, stair cases, cells etc that have achieved a significant height eg. Mousa.

While most academics currently agree to use the term Atlantic Roundhouses, broch is still used as a convenient shorthand.

In and around Stirling, brochs appear to have been adopted slightly later than elsewhere in Scotland and are widely assumed to be connected with conspicuous consumption associated with the arrival of the massive Roman market to the south and most are associated with strategic trading locations.

reconstructed broch (2)
Christian Maclagan’s model of a broch in the Smith Museum, Stirling

Further Reading

Armit, I. 1991. The Atlantic Scottish Iron Age: five levels of chronology., Proc Soc Antiq Scot 121, 181-214

Armit, I. 2003. Towers in the North: the Brochs of Scotland, Tempus: Stroud.

MacKie, E. W. 2002. 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. 2007. The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c. 700 BC – AD 500. Architecture and material culture. Part 2, The Northern and Southern Mainland and the Western Islands, British Archaeological Reports British Series 444: Oxford.

Macinnes, L. 1984. Brochs and the Roman Occupation of Lowland Scotland, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 114, 235-249.

Scottish Archaeological Research Framework http://www.scottishheritagehub.com/content/59-atlantic-stone-built-roundhouses-sequence-subdivision-and-interpretations

 

 

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