Culture

Scatness Broch Shetland

Over a period of 1,000 years the community which grew up within and around the Scatness Broch in Shetland modified and developed the structures there.

Scatness Dig Credit Steve Jones

Brochs in Scotland are domestic tower structures from the Iron Age. In Shetland there may be 120 remains which were once brochs.

The excavation of the broch at Scatness was the subject of Simon Clarke’s talk at the 5th St Magnus Conference on Thursday 15th of April 2021.

Over the thousand years of occupation the people who lived there, farming and making textiles, changed the buildings, adapting them to suit the different needs of their times.

There was once an enclosure ditch and rampart within which the broch tower was centrally built. Simon Clarke described this monumental structure as defensive and enormous. There was more stone used in its construction than in the building of the broch itself. Simon Clarke explained that it was very much about separation and control. There was only one way in.

The broch tower had one entrance which was on the west .At one time there was a second way in but this was only used during the construction of the broch and was later filled in. Inside there were the usual cells you would find in brochs and at least 1 timber floor.

Move on 100 years and buildings have been added, but still within the enclosure. Two large wheelhouses were constructed at this time. This resulted in dividing the enclosure into two compounds. These also had suspended wooden floors, central hearths and the same anti-clockwise direction of moving around them. Simon Clarke reflected that this indicates a strong pattern of repeating social practice.

Wheelhouse Scatness credit Colin Smith

The village continued to expand but the houses became less equal both in size and quality. There are shared spaces indicating communal work places. There is evidence in them of working with crop processing and flax for textiles.

The broch tower also undergoes modifications and one building appears to be used for specialist food preparation in the later Iron Age.

Over time the broch tower is no longer used and new buildings appear. The defences go out of use and the settlement becomes more open. Simon Clarke remarked that the raised flooring now used indicates status with evidence for that coming from the finds: amber beads and glass (trading Roman goods). The space has become more architecturally complex states Simon Clarke. There is a change in the way power is being exercised, he comments, a move from monumentality to portable wealth that can be given as gifts.

As the site moves into the Pictish period the buildings become more subterranean. The broch tower is now a ruin but a cellular structure is inserted within the broch. Spaces become more private. Every house is different and not so regular.

The occupation of the Scatness site spreads across a time span from 1AD to 9AD , the start of the Norse era. It is still in use but gone is the high status it once had.

The talk ‘Time, Space and Gender at Scatness Broch Shetland by Simon Clarke was part of the 5th St Magnus Conference hosed by the Institute of Northern Studies, the University of the Highlands and Islands. The talk was online and free to view. It has been recorded.

Midhowe Broch, Rousay Orkney credit Martin Laird
Clickimin Broch, Shetland

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

3 replies »

  1. Shame that Shetland Amenity Trust and the University of Bradford together with the directors of the excavation and the three published volumes none are not referenced.

    • If you click on the link to Scatness Broch you will get to the Shetland Amenity Trust website and if you watch the recording all of the references were on that. This is a very short review of the talk.

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