A record of our ancient Brochs, Hill-forts and Sculptured Stones of Scotland
Brochs are a class of massive, circular, prehistoric houses. They have been built using a drystane construction method with walls typically 4 metres thick and an inside floor space of around 10 metres diameter. Stone-built structures have a long tradition from the Neolithic until the present day with the brochs forming part of this continuum.
These round-houses were built and occupied from around 800BC until the second century AD. This is the earlier part of the Scottish Iron Age when defensive structures such as promontary forts, vitrified forts and common hill forts were being constructed in prominent and strategic positions in the landscape across the British Isles.
The brochs may have developed from the substantial Bronze Age roundhouses, the remains of many are still to be seen across the northern Highlands.
These can have a diameter of up to 15 metres although with thinner walls with large stones for the lower levels.
Earlier still, in the Neolithic Age, buildings, both domestic structures as at Skara Brae and funerary structures, as in Mae’s Howe – both sites on the Orkney Mainland – show the degree of skill with stone constructions.
Recent authors have classed brochs as part of the ‘Atlantic Roundhouse Tradition’ and this class includes duns and wheelhouses.
Arguments as to the definition of a broch continue to occur.
Massive and circular – yes – but must they have complex wall architecture?
|Borve Castle Promontary Fort
|Cnoc an Duin Hillfort
The database of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), known as ‘Canmore’, lists over 500 sites with the label 'broch'. Many of these sites would need excavation or X-ray to define the hidden building techniques still below ground. Other sites have been completely removed by quarrying of the stone, leaving only a faint negative impression on the ground.5 Some sites still show a complex tower footprint but stand alone in the landscape and others have a simple footprint but stand among a complex of surrounding structures which were probably added later. Other sites have some combination of the above or have been reworked almost beyond recognition.