The Midhowe Broch, Rousay
Perhaps the most impressive of all Orkney's brochs
is the Midhowe Broch on Rousay.
The broch is one of the many archaeological structures covering
the island's western coast.
Looking across the churning waters
of Eynhallow Sound towards the
Mainland, these massive structures must have been an awe-inspiring
sight to early travellers.
Constructed and used some time between 200BC
and 200AD, at first glance the Midhowe broch appears to have been
built with defence in mind.
Standing on a promontory formed by two geos,
the broch is protected on one side by the sea and on the landward
side by a stone rampart and ditch. This massive rampart is built
in an arc between the two geos and effectively cuts off access
from the land.
Although there is no doubt that these outward
defences would have looked impressive in their heyday, it may
be that they were merely built for dramatic effect.
end of the rampart stops short of the geo and leaves a ledge on
the rock face by which a "visitor" could easily gain
access to the promontory.
Like the Broch
of Gurness, Midhowe is surrounded by a group of external buildings.
These, however, are probably from a later date, a time when the
need for defence was not as important.
One of the interior sections of the Midhowe
Coastal erosion, a problem for all shore sites
such as Midhowe, has greatly damaged the remains of these outhouses.
The remains of the broch's circular wall stand
to a height of approximately four metres and within the structure
the general layout of the ground floor is remarkably well-preserved.
Large slabs of local flagstone were used to
divide the interior (diameter 9.6 metres) into two smaller, semi-circular
rooms. These were then further divided into smaller cells, each
with its own hearth and water-tank.
Water was supplied from a spring that flowed
up through a crack in the rocks and during the excavations, it
was written that the main storage tank retained water which:
"remained clear and drinkable
all the years the work of excavation was going on."
Midhowe differs from other Orkney brochs in that it had a ground-floor gallery
built into the walls. However, this hollow base was obviously
not a good idea because at some point the gallery had to be blocked
and filled in when the walls threatened to collapse.
A projecting ledge, about three metres (11 feet)
up would have at one time supported a timber first floor.
Perhaps the most interesting things about Midhowe
are the artefacts found within during excavation. The majority
of these were the normal domestic items as you would expect to
find on such a site - tools, whetstones, quernstones etc.
However, like the underground chamber of Minehowe,
the Midhowe Broch yielded a few surprises as well.
Among the items
uncovered were the remains of a bronze ladle and some shards of
pottery - items that had a definite Roman origin. Because Orkney
was well away from the areas of Roman control, they must either
have been acquired as gifts or through trading or raiding excursions
Click here for
more on the subject of Orkney and the Romans.
The discovery of bronze jewellery on site also
hints at the wealth and status of the family unit that lived at
Midhowe. The archaeological evidence also indicates that, at some
time, a bronze-worker was based at Midhowe. However, the small quantity
of debris uncovered may simply mean that this craftsman was merely
a travelling artisan.