An Iron Age broch will be reconstructed in northern Scotland using 2,000-year-old techniques to build the stone tower. Not just that, but it will be filled with Iron Age tools, and folk!
A broch, or ‘complex Atlantic roundhouse,’ is a hollow-walled stone tower that was greatly built in what is today Scotland. Around 700 brochs were built across Scotland in the Iron Age between 400 BC and 100 AD, with over 200 in the northernmost county of Caithness, the so-called Lowlands beyond the Highlands. Where I am from, incidentally.
Iain Maclean and Kenny McElroy are the cofounders of The Caithness Broch Project , and they recently revealed their ambitious plans to build a new broch in Caithness, equipped with recreated Iron Age furniture and brought to life with local actors.
Artist’s impression of how the ‘new’ Iron Age Caithness Brock will look. (Bob Marshall / Caithness Broch Project )
The Iron Age Forts of Scotland
Brochs were not for everyone, and they were the residences of powerful tribal chieftains, agricultural overlords, and their extended families. However, it is thought that entire communities would have taken refuge within the brochs while under attack or during extreme weather fronts.
Almost 2,000 years have passed since the last broch was built in Scotland but Caithness Broch Project have published striking images of what their reconstructed broch will look like in the heathery northern Scottish landscape .
Construction of the ancient building will begin in 2023 and the Broch Project promises future visitors to Caithness will get a hands-on experience of the past ‘at an unprecedented level.’ According to a report in Daily Mail the broch will be constructed ‘as authentically as possible’ and this means the tools and building techniques of Iron Age Scotland will be deployed throughout the whole building project.
The plan is for the broch to be built using authentic methods. (Bob Marshall / Caithness Broch Project )
An Authentic Broch Experience
The Caithness Broch Project explained that brochs were ‘impressive buildings’ with some reaching up over 13 meters in height. Back in the Iron Age they would have had an imposing presence on the landscape, constantly asserting the domineering power of their residence. Every Iron Age detail will be included in the new broch including the archetypal small entrance, steps in the wall gaps and a circular central inner courtyard. Many mysteries still exist pertaining to how these vast stone towers were constructed, and according to the team in Caithness the only way these skills will ever be understood is by recreating a broch.
The project leaders said they believe the new broch will not only be of interest to those with professional interests in archaeology, but also for casual tourists at a time the north of Scotland is facing ‘challenging circumstances.’ And to attract these visitors the reconstructed broch will feature local actors interacting with traditional furniture and tools.
The Caithness replica broch will contain all the traditional tools and styling of an original Iron Age broch. (Bob Marshall / Caithness Broch Project )
If You Build It, They Will Come
The Caithness charity aims to acquire land within the next 12 months and to begin building the broch sometime in 2023. Not only will the project create much needed jobs in Caithness, but it will also revitalize the flagging local tourist economy. Travelling around Scotland is great fun and really simple on its great rail and ferry networks. You can get to Caithness on a train or bus from Inverness, and while the completed new broch is still a few years away, there are hundreds of ruinous Neolithic burial cairns, Iron Age brochs, and Medieval castles to visit right now. All you need to do is have a look at the Visit Scotland Covid-19 guidance & advice page first to see what’s required.
I urge you to go beyond Inverness to Caithness, the home of about 200 Iron Age brochs, many of which you can explore now. It has always been suspected that brochs formed defensive chains, along which fire signals could be sent from the coasts to interior agricultural settlements, warning of impending attack. In 2017 I filmed this short documentary with Iain Maclean from the Caithness Broch Project, seeking evidence of this ancient system of long distance communication between the structures, which will let you see several classic Scottish brochs up close, with Ian describing how they were built.
Top image: Artist’s impression of how the completed Caithness Broch will look. Source: Bob Marshall / Caithness Broch Project
By Ashley Cowie