The Broch of Gurness, Evie
Until the summer of 1929, the
site of the Broch of Gurness was nothing more than a massive, grassy
mound by the shore.
The mound was known as the Knowe o'
The Knowe o' Aikerness
The remains of the broch were discovered by Orcadian poet and
antiquarian, Robert Rendall. While sketching on the knowe, one of
the legs of Rendall's stool sank into the mound. Carefully removing
some of the nearby stones, Rendall uncovered a staircase leading
down into the mound.
Full excavations began later that
year and, for the first time in centuries, the broch and its outbuildings
saw the light of day.
for the broch are unclear, but it is generally agreed that it was
built between 200BC and 100BC - possibly on the site of an earlier
around eight metres high (26 feet), with an internal diameter of
20 metres (65 feet), the broch was a tall, easily-defended, tower,
surrounded by a series of small stone dwellings.
settlement was circled by outer defences comprising of a band of
three ramparts and three ditches.
The sprawl of stone houses filled
all the available space between broch and the outer defences, and
probably housed a community of up to 40 families. The
semi-detached stone-built dwellings were partitioned off into separate
living areas, each contained a hearth, stone furniture, and even
a recognisable toilet.
itself was accessed by an entrance causeway on the eastern side
of the settlement. Houses line this causeway giving the appearance
of a processional path.
As time progressed, the broch's defensive
role decreased, until around 100AD, after years of neglect, it was
finally abandoned and its upper sections dismantled - probably to
provide the building material for later houses in the area. Over
the ensuing years, its walls continued to be reduced, as stone provided
a valuable source of building material.
The structure that remains today
is, at its maximum, 3.5 metres tall, with a solid base. The hollow
section of the wall, on either side of the main entrance, houses
During the years of its occupation,
a number of alterations were made to the interior of the broch but the original
rectangular hearth and an underground
chamber containing a spring-filled water tank are still clearly
This chamber, typical of a number
found at sites across Orkney, is very similar to the underground
chamber discovered at Minehowe
With the broch abandoned, the village
also fell out of use, as the population decreased, or drifted away
to settle elsewhere. As a result, the village was either demolished
or gradually flattened over time.
By the fifth century AD, when Orkney
was part of the Pictish nation,
Aikerness was still being used, but for a series small houses or
farms. The most striking of these houses can still be seen upon
entering the site today.
The "Shamrock House", as
it has been christened, is typically Pictish in design, and was
found buried in the rubble on the south-eastern part of the site.
It was subsequently moved, stone by stone, to the right of the modern
Other Pictish finds from Gurness
included an ogham-inscribed bone knife handle and a stone carved
with Pictish symbols.
The fragmented remains of a Pictish symbol
stone were uncovered on the nearby sands of Evie.
Aikerness was one of the many Pictish
sites in Orkney taken over by the Norse when they arrived in the
islands. By the time they settled in Orkney, there was probably
nothing at the Gurness site, other than a grassy mound.
It is possible that the mound held
some significance to the pagan Norse settlers - who had a tradition
of burying their dead in mounds - with at least one Viking grave
found on site. The female grave, containing typical Scandinavian
brooches, was found dug into the old rampart surrounding the settlement.
The remains of a large rectangular
structure also led to the suggestion that there may have been a Norse
hall at Aikerness. The truth of the matter is, however, that
the structure could also be Pictish as other evidence uncovered
has been inconclusive.
After the Norse burial, the Gurness
site seems to have been left alone, with no other evidence of later
disturbance or development, until the 1929 excavation.