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Bu Of Cairston

Broch (Iron Age), Settlement (Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Iron Age)

Site Name Bu Of Cairston

Classification Broch (Iron Age), Settlement (Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Iron Age)

Canmore ID 1548

Site Number HY20NE 71

NGR HY 272 096

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Stromness
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY20NE 71 272 096

A broch was discovered in the NS cliff section in September 1985. It lies c 50m N of the structure known as the Bu of Cairston (HY20NE 10) and underlies the modern barn on the site.

Visits to the site since then have revealed several exposures, and the following structural resolution is suggested. An apparently solid based broch was built almost directly onto natural, with an extensive surrounding settlement visible to the N. Two distinctive sets of orthostatic arrangements were visible in the inner court (one of which has been removed since its discovery), together with a paved outer zone of the court. A thin layer of occupational deposits overlies the paving, and in turn is overlain by rubble infill, tentatively suggesting only a short-lived occupation. Demolition of

the broch in antiquity is suggested by an unrelated sequence of walling overlying much of the central court, though its significance is unclear at present. Much of the southward continuation of the section has been damaged by a modern drainage feature and a track cut into the cliff.

Several stratified finds have been deposited in Tankerness House Museum, Kirkwall, along with fuller reports. Finds, with the appropriate accession numbers following in brackets, have included

nine body and rim sherds of middle Iron Age pottery mainly from the vicinity of the paving mentioned above (THM 1985.73, 1985.74, 1987. 129-1987. 135), a fractured hammerstone/grinder. (THM 1985.77), and various unworked faunal remains (THM 1985.75, 1985.76 and 1987.136).

In addition unstratified finds have been made this year by Colin Richards (Glasgow University) and deposited at Tankerness House Museum (THM 1987.82-1987.84).

D Lynn and B Bell 1987.

Monitoring of the natural erosion of the site has revealed a complex of later features south of the broch tower, as well as the resolution of some of the internal features of the tower. Two finds of early Iron Age pottery have been made comprising a total of 35 sherds. These have all been deposited with Tankerness House, Accession nos THM 1988.26 and THM 1988.66, and were accompanied by full reports of their discovery and the structural features now apparent.

D Lynn and B Bell 1988.

HY 272 096 An animal knuckle bone, with a round hole c5mm in diameter bored centrally through it, was found in unstratified collapse rubble in the cliff section, and within the probable broch tower (Lynn and Bell 1997). No comparative examples were identidied, but possible use as a toggle is surmised. The find was deposited in Tankerness house Museum (Entry no. 1995.404).

D Lynn and I Campbell 1995.


Field Visit (1998)

A coastal exposure, over 50m long, contains structural remains but is so overgrown that these are not clearly identifiable. The section face stands up to 3m in height and along with a series of upright slabs there are anthropogenic soil deposits which contain inclusions of bone and shell. The site has been eroding for many years and collections of artefacts and unworked bone have been collected and deposited at Tankerness House Museum. Previous recorders have interpreted the site as a broch and associated settlement. The site has never been thoroughly assessed, however, and it may be that significant remains of both earlier and later periods are also present.

Moore and Wilson, 1998

Orkney Coastal Zone Assessment

Field Visit (10 May 2015)


As described, the remains visible in section are largely unchanged. This site lies in a low-energy environment and the coast edge is well-vegetated. A concrete tank has been built against the section at the southern end.

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) 10 May 2015


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