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Rousay, North Howe

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible)

Site Name Rousay, North Howe

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible)

Canmore ID 2276

Site Number HY33SE 11

NGR HY 3704 3074

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Rousay And Egilsay
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY33SE 11 3704 3074.

(HY 3704 3074) North Howe (NR).

OS 6"map, Orkney, 2nd ed.,(1900).

On elevated ground about 100 yds from the rocky and precipitous coastline, is a large unexplored site of somewhat indefinite character. Heaps of stones, overgrown with grass, suggest a circular structure surrounded by "outbuildings", possibly a broch. The whole site has been pillaged for material for dry-stone dykes.

RCAHMS 1946. Visited 1928.

North Howe, the scant remains of a broch marked by a grassy mound c.17.0m in diameter and 2.5m maximum height, with traces of the outer wall face visible for a length of about 12.0m around the NW arc. There are no definite traces of outbuildings but the uneven ground in the vicinity is suggestive of a secondary settlement.

Re-surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS(AA) 11 October 1972.


Field Visit (August 1980)

Large unexplored site of indefinite character. Overgrown

heaps of stones suggest outbuildings, also a circular

structure, therefore probably a broch site. [R1]

Site forms very extensive platform, reserved from ploughing

within an arable field. The subsidiary buildings presumably

occupy all this platform and probably some little way beyond its

limits, since the edge of the platform is obviously attenuated by


Information from Orkney SMR (RGL) Aug 80.

Publication Account (2002)



A possible broch on Rousay, the much pillaged remains of a stone building which stand about 300 m NW of Midhowe and about 100 m from the rocky coast. Traces of an outer wall face are visible for a length of c. 12 m along the NW arc [1]. There are suggestions of out-buildings. Three potsherds from the site are in the National Museum [3].

Sources: 1. OS card HY 33 SE 11: 2. RCAHMS 1946, 2, no. 557, 202: 3. Hedges et al. 1987, 116-17: 4. Lamb 1982, 22.

E W MacKie 2002

Geophysical Survey (16 April 2018 - 26 April 2018)

HY 37051 30722 (North Howe), HY 37274 30377 (South Howe), HY 37352 29774 (Knowe of Rowiegar), HY 37531 29661 (Knowe of Swandro), HY 37626 29296 (Westness Viking Houses), HY 4398 3224 (Rinyo) and HY 40065 27452 (Burrian)

The RGK undertook a survey campaign on Rousay, 16 – 26 April 2018, as part of the Boyne to Brodgar Project. It aimed to provide a landscape perspective of two Neolithic core areas on the island – Westside and Rinyo. Moreover, the diachronic development in both areas will be researched, concentrating on the processes of formation and degradation of land use over time.

At Westside the survey area stretched from Westness Farm in the S to the rugged area N of North Howe, where the rocky surface and shrubbery prevented further activity (c56ha). The survey focused on the lower fields close to the coast and to the known Neolithic chambered cairns of Knowe of Swandro, Knowe of Rowiegar and Mid Howe. Some fields had to be omitted because the device could not drive across their steep slopes and rocky ground. Several new anthropogenic anomalies and structures can be observed in the imagery. In the SE field of the surveyed area a possible new mound is most striking. A circular structure, 9.5m in diameter, of high magnetic susceptibility was evident about 250m NW of the mound. In the N further settlement structures surrounding North Howe Broch have been revealed. Track-like linear structures follow downhill from the N towards the SW, and E of these, and NW of North Howe several possible settlement structures are evident. Three circular roundhouse structures are located 20m N of the broch, their diameter is between 8.5 and 11m. Immediately W of North Howe a concentration of stone might result from broch related debris, but could also reveal remains of further building activity in this location. Further investigations will hopefully reveal details about the chronology and function of some of the anomaly clusters.

The Neolithic settlement of Rinyo is positioned in a valley between Faraclet Head and Kierfea Hill in the N of Rousay. During the survey, 50.5ha of gradiometer data were captured from fields surrounding Bigland and Houseby Farms in the S of the valley. The NW area of the survey showed traces of ploughing and some field boundaries. Apart from the interior structuring of Rinyo settlement site several new features have been identified in the adjacent fields to the N and S. A circular to oval structure of 20 – 22m in diameter is positioned about 40m NW of Rinyo’s extent. Inside the settlement, internal details can be identified, and the magnetic susceptibility of the structure is relatively high with values up to 18.0 nT. In the field SE of Rinyo, a cluster of several structures is evident. Several circular and semi-circular features with diameters between 12 – 22m, as well as linear anomalies, signify a focus of settlement activity. About 100m SE of the modern Bigland Farm a further nucleus of settlement or burial activity of uncertain date and type was found. A linear structure in the SW of the surveyed area could result from an igneous dyke. Several anthropogenic anomalies can be found around the dyke.

Two fields were surveyed N of Burrian Broch on the S coast of Rousay. Part of the broch has eroded into the sea and the part facing the coast was not accessible with the 3m rig. The N part of the cavity wall and the possible outer boundary ditch are visible in the magnetometry data. The fields contain dipole anomalies, probably resulting from modern metal waste. Some faint traces of rig and furrow-like features can be detected in the areas close to the coast. Several linear features of higher magnetic susceptibility may also be of modern origin (heavily burnt material was visible on the ground surface).

This report highlights some of the larger structures brought to light with the surveys. Many further features, visible of in the imagery, are still undergoing analysis, and more complementary work is needed to further identify their function and chronology, and their meaning in the composite usage of the land.

Gradiometer survey was predominantly conducted with a GPS-supported 14-sensor fluxgate GM650B gradiometer device mounted on a quad-drawn 3m wide rig. At Westside, the fields close to the sea were not accessible with the large rig. These were surveyed with a 2m rig mounted with five sensors with a similar technical configuration to the larger one.

The works were carried out in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, Orkney College, County Archaeologist Julie Gibson, Orkney Islands Council, the National Museum of Scotland and University College Dublin.

All survey results are reported to Historic Environment Scotland and the Rousay Community

Funder: RGK

Ruth Beusing and Knut Rassmann – Römisch-Germanische Kommission, Frankfurt (RGK) of the German Archaeological Institut (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut)

(Source DES Volume 19)


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