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Jul 12, 2011

Brochs: mysterious ruins of Scotland

One of the enduring mysteries of Scottish archaeology are brochs. More than 500 of these drystone towers dot the Scottish landscape. Most are in the north, or in the Shetland and Orkney Islands, and hug the waterways or shorelines. Some archaeologists say they're forts, others say they're the homes of the elite. Some contend that they're communal homes.

The name comes from the Lowland Scots words brough and the Old Norse borg, both of which mean "fort". That and the general feel of these places makes me think they were defensive structures, although that doesn't preclude their use for other functions. Castles in the High Middle Ages, for example, were for protection, living, and a way to show social status.

The best preserved is the Broch of Mousa in Shetland, shown above. It dates to about 100 BC and still stands 44 ft. (13 m) high. The internal staircase is preserved all the way to the top and you're allowed to climb it! It went through many phases of use and some Vikings even lived here centuries later in the Middle Ages.

For a better view of how a broch was constructed, check out the picture of Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis, shown below. Like Mousa, it was built in the first century BC and inhabited for many centuries, as late as 1300 AD in this case.
Whatever their use, they are some of the most impressively built prehistoric structures in Europe and add an air of mystery and beauty to the Scottish landscape.

Sorry Medieval Mondays is coming to you on a Tuesday this week, but Ive been having connectivity issues with my ISP. Hopefully that's all straightened out now. All, the troubles of the modern world!


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