Broch of Gurness

One of the wonderful advantages of living on Orkney is the east access to so many wonderful archaeological sites. This Easter holiday we went to visit the Broch of Gurness. If you have not been before it is a mind-blowing example of a broch with associated smaller structures: Domestic? Not domestic? Let me know your thoughts. It is also interesting in that it is situated just within sight of Midhowe broch across the water on the island of Rousay.

Broch of Gurness looking across to Rousay

It is also a brilliant site to let children run themselves exhausted amongst the ruins. Not only this, they can fit into small spaces with a torch to report back on what they see (all very risk managed and health and safety conscious of course). As discussed before, enthusiastic child labour has its uses in archaeology.

The close proximity of Midhowe and Broch of Gurness, two of many broch sites around Orkney.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with brochs, they are quite specific to Scotland. Also known as “complex atlantic roundhouses”, they are huge drystone circular towers that are often found on the coasts or close to water sources. The use of these structures is highly debated, making for a good example of the robust conversations that go on within archaeology. If nothing else this debate shows once again that “mainstream archaeology” is totally incapable of agreeing to hide large alien conspiracies. People built cool stuff, there is no need for aliens: end of.

Although dated later than my natural hunting ground of the Neolithic, brochs will always hold a special place in my heart. My first ever excavation as an undergraduate was at The Cairns on South Ronaldsay. It was an exciting place to do my first ever dig, with data of truly international significance being recorded. It is also just a genuinely cool site to have been involved with. Excavations are ongoing with regular updates posted online (see links below). Every year new unexpected and remarkable things are being found and I have no doubt that the final publication is going to be substantial in understanding both the monument type and Iron Age society.

My first dig at the Cairns (in the white hat)

Brochs are, of course, not just an Orcadian thing. They spread across northern Scotland from east to west with various wonderful regional variations. The Caithness Broch Project have in recent years done a huge amount to highlight the amazing number of these monuments in what is now Caithness. Their big aim is to build a replica broch, but they regularly have smaller projects going on. Just recently they did a fine job tidying up Achvarasdal Broch.

Achvarasdal Broch cleanup by the Caithness Broch Project

While I love Orkney and its archaeology, it is not lost on me that there is a significant research bias on this part of Scotland. For those of you who wish to see the archaeology of Scotland, Caithness should never be a part that is driven through to catch the ferry to Orkney. You will see things in Caithness to rival anything on Orkney, although of course do come to Orkney as well because it’s brilliant.

Caithness Broch Project:
The Cairns: