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  The Brough of Birsay

The Norse settlement

The structural remains on The Brough of Birsay show how the site developed throughout the period it was occupied by the Norse - from the earliest houses up on the western slope overlooking the settlement - to the later, tenth century, structures down by the eastern cliff edges.

The lower courses of the early "hall-houses" are the most numerous - their number is slightly misleading to the visitor as they would not all have been in use at the same time.

Built high on sloping ground to the west of the site, the long halls are typical of the period between 800-1000AD.

Built from stone with a turf roof, they were essentially long, rectangular, window-less buildings with central hearths flanked by benches.

These hall-houses were built directly on top of the earlier Pictish buildings, which meant a continuity of settlement stretching over hundreds of years.

By one of these halls are the remains of a byre which would indicate that the early Norse kept at least some of their animals - probably sheep - on the island itself, rather than on the Mainland.

This may have been the exception to the norm, however, as the animal remains found on the site seems to indicate that livestock was slaughtered off the island with the meat brought in.

Down by the cliffs to the east of the site are the remains of the later Norse houses.

These overlay years of earlier Norse structures dating from the ninth through to the twelfth century AD. The houses visible today date from the tenth century.

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