The Broch of Gurness is one of the most outstanding surviving examples of an Iron Age settlement that is unique to northern Scotland.
Explore this once mighty Iron Age settlement, with a small village arranged around a central, massive broch tower.
A uniquely Scottish monument
Brochs are unique to Scotland. There are over 500 of them, the vast majority spread throughout the northern and western Highlands and the islands. Many of these tall circular towers stood alone, but in Orkney they were generally surrounded by sizeable villages. The broch village at Gurness is one of the most impressive. It has also been archaeologically excavated, thus providing a more vivid impression of life in the Scottish Iron Age than other comparable sites.
A thousand years of settlement
Archaeological excavations in the early 20th century showed that the village began between 500 and 200BC. A large area, roughly 45m across, was defined by deep ditches and ramparts. At a later stage, an entrance causeway was added on the east side, and a circular broch tower built in the west half. Around the latter arose a settlement of small stone houses, with attached yards and sheds. Some time after AD 100 the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. The site thereafter continued as a single farmstead until around the 8th century. The last activity came in the 9th century, when a Viking woman was buried here with her grave-goods.
Gurness Broch was probably the residence of the principal family of the community. It also provided the last defensive resort. Within its massively thick walls the broch originally had a single central hearth, a ring of stone-built cupboards around the wall, and a sunken water feature traditionally interpreted as a well. A spiral stair led up to upper levels in the tower and to the wall-head. When the broch began to collapse, this arrangement was altered. The ‘well’ was filled in and the interior refitted with new partitions. Most of what the visitor sees today dates from this secondary phase.
Very occasionally the property has to close at short notice due to adverse weather conditions or other reasons out with our control. Please check the Historic Scotland closures page for any unexpected site closures https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/. You can also follow closure tweets from @welovehistory using #hsclosure. Alternatively please call the site before setting off to check they are open.