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Archaeology InSites

Hoga Ness broch - Unst, Shetland

Location

On a windswept peninsula on the far southwestern point of the most northerly of the Shetland Islands is Hoga Ness broch, a ruined Iron Age stone tower surrounded by dramatic earthworks. The broch itself survives in good condition, but it has collapsed and has been effected by coastal erosion. Its status as a broch has been questioned in the past, but there are intramural chambers clearly visible, and some of the internal wall faces are visible through the vegetation and rubble. Hoga Ness is one of over 130 brochs in Shetland, and has one of the most impressive defensive ditch and rampart systems of any of these sites.

Razed but well fortified

Hoga Ness Broch is situated on a headland to the west of the farmhouse at Belmont, and is sometimes called Belmont Broch. It dates to some time between 500 BC and 200 AD, and has never been formally excavated. Undoubtedly its most distinctive feature is the massive earthwork defences. These are significant because the purpose of brochs is debated. Were they offensive? Defensive? High status farmhouses? The archaeological remains at Hoga Ness have the potential to help us answer those questions.

The broch was described in 1774 as being 'razed', but well fortified with two very deep ditches and ramparts facing towards the land. At this time the broch seems to have been a grassy mound, and few other details are recorded. Writing in 1822, Hibbert says that the broch tower itself was 60ft (18.2m) in diameter, with walls 15ft (4.5m) thick. Today the outline is obscured by rubble, but it is clear that substantial remains do survive. There are intramural chambers on the S and SE arcs, and a 4m section of the internal wall face is also visible here. The lower courses of the broch likely survive below the ground surface. A small sheep fold stands on the north side of the broch, probably belonging to a nearby ruined farm.

The defensive system is cleverly designed to take advantage of the topography. The massive concentric ramparts and ditches cut off the broch from the land. The inner rampart appears to be stone faced, and next to this is a ditch, and then a high bank and an outer ditch. A section of the inner stone facing is visible on the NE side of the inner rampart. There appears to have been a wall running from the south face of the broch to the cliff, although this has been reduced to its foundations. It is possible that there were other buildings within the broch enclosure, but as it has never been excavated, we cannot say what else was here.
Kirsty Owen - Senior Archaeology Manager
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