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Broch Of Burland

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible)

Site Name Broch Of Burland

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible)

Canmore ID 998

Site Number HU43NW 5

NGR HU 4455 3607

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/998

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Lerwick
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Shetland
  • Former County Shetland

Archaeology Notes

HU43NW 5 4455 3607.

(HU 4455 3607) Brough of Burland (OE)

O.S.6"map, Shetland, 2nd ed., (1903).

The site of this broch is bounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs, and the only approach from the north, is barred by three cross-walls with external ditches. The broch wall is 15' thick and the courtyard 35' in diameter. The entrance, remarkably, is in the SW where it now opens only a few uncertain feet from the brink of the cliff. Various later walls and piles of debris indicate secondary occupation.

RCAHMS 1946, visited 1930; R W Feachem 1963.

Broch of Burland as described.

Re-surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 16th May 1968.

In 1983 a section was cut across the ramparts along the W cliffs by the Central Excavation Unit, as part of an SDD-funded programme of excavation at five Iron Age sites in Shetland threatened by coastal erosion. The work was intended to define the nature of the outer and central ramparts and to seek dating evidence for their construction. Both the outer and central ramparts were shown to have stone faces to rubble and soil cores, suggesting that all three ramparts are of similar construction. The excavations revealed evidence of chronological complexity: the central rampart was constucted after the adjacent ditches had, at least partially, infilled and may have replaced an earlier bank. The other rampart may be a later addition, although this is less certain. The only artefact type found was pottery, which was chronologically undiagnostic. The excavation was supervised by Peter Strong.

S Carter, R McCullagh and A MacSween 1995

The excavation archive from the 1983 investigation has been catalogued.

Historic Scotland Archive Project (FD) 1996.

Activities

Excavation (1983)

In 1983 a section was cut across the ramparts along the W cliffs by the Central Excavation Unit, as part of an SDD-funded programme of excavation at five Iron Age sites in Shetland threatened by coastal erosion. The work was intended to define the nature of the outer and central ramparts and to seek dating evidence for their construction. Both the outer and central ramparts were shown to have stone faces to rubble and soil cores, suggesting that all three ramparts are of similar construction. The excavations revealed evidence of chronological complexity: the central rampart was constucted after the adjacent ditches had, at least partially, infilled and may have replaced an earlier bank. The other rampart may be a later addition, although this is less certain. The only artefact type found was pottery, which was chronologically undiagnostic. The excavation was supervised by Peter Strong.

S Carter, R McCullagh and A MacSween 1995

Publication Account (2002)

HU43 2 BURLAND 2 ('Broch of Bur-land')

HU/446361 (visited 5/6/63 and 30/-6/87).

This probable solid-based broch in Dunrossness, near Lerwick, is situated on a high, steep cliff promontory the approach to which -- from the north -- is defended by a massive series of ditches and walls across its neck (Ill. 4.89 - 4.95). The outer wall face stands 9-10 ft. high most of the way round. The lintel of an intra-mural gallery is visible at about 8 o'clock on the wallhead of this ruined and unexcavated building and, since its lintels are some 8 ft. above the floor of the outer end of the entrance passage, it is almost certainly an upper rather than a ground level gallery. The Commission saw another fragment of this gallery at 10 o'clock [2, fig. 574] and in 1963 a door in the inner wall face was visible at about 10 o'clock; it may be the entrance to a cell. The unexcavated interior appears to be filled with a secondary circular structure which has contracted the central court considerably; because of this the primary broch wall face cannot be seen.

During the 24 years between the writer's first and second visits a considerable amount of damage was done to the entrance passage. The chamber over the entrance is now completely exposed, as far back as its inner end (Ill. 4.92); the outer wall face in front of this has either been knocked down or -- more probably -- was never there. Although the writer's original 1963 description of the site says that all the lintels were in position over the entrance, none are now (apart from one immediately in front of the pole in Ill. 4.92). In view of what follows it seems likely that he made a mistake then and did not realise that the extensive lintelled passage which can be seen is a secondary construction (the Commission's description does not mention any primary lintels).

The lintels having been removed, the passage below can be seen fairly clearly, and the two massive door-checks -- formed of stone slabs -- are visible 3.05m (10 ft. 0 in.) from the outer end. The upper part of the corbelled guard cell can be seen on the right, full of debris (Ill. 4.93); the door from this cell to the passage, seen and planned by the Commission, is now buried. The outer end of the entrance passage is only about a metre (3 ft.) from the edge of the sheer cliff, and a direct approach to it is now impossible. The width of the passage is 0.9m (3 ft.) at its outer end but it widens to 1.52m (5 ft.) within the checks, contracting again to 1.37 m (4 ft. 6 ins.) at the inner end.

The Commission noted two concentric lines of secondary walling at the inner end of the passage, which was thus prolonged inwards. This secondary entrance can be seen clearly now, starting immediately below the now visible inner end of the chamber above the broch entrance. There is a straight joint on each side between broch wall and secondary wall, and the continuous row of lower lintels starts here; the resemblance to Dun Ringill on Skye is very striking (NG51 4). There is a tertiary wall beyond this, also with the lintelled entrance prolonged through it with higher lintels (Ill. 4.95); the straight joint on the left hand side forms a door check, and is visible in Ill. 4.95 on the right, just in front of the first lower lintel. The excellent state of preservation of this inwardly extended passage-- the lintels of which can only be a short distance below the surface of the interior rubble -- makes Burland unique in Shetland and well worthy of protection and preservation.

The outer defences consist of three massive banks with three ditches between and in front of them. The shallow, outer ditch is about 22 ft. wide, then comes a probably stone wall 18 ft. thick with a distinct gap or doorway in its centre 8 ft. wide. Within this are two shallow ditches with a wall or rampart between them; the central gap runs through these also. The innermost defence is another wall, clearly visible as such at its west end and 10 ft. thick; the west half appears to turn in to abut the broch wall. These defences enclose an area of the promontory -- which has cliffs 100 ft. high -- about 50 ft. long by 30 - 40 yds. wide, of which the broch occupies only a tiny part.

During the 1980s a section was cut across the outer defences (except for the inner rampart) close to the west cliff [3, Ill. 18]. Both ramparts appeared to be of the dump type, with rubble and soil cores, with revetted drystone faces.

Dimensions: External diameter 65 ft., wall about 15 ft. thick: wall pro-portion thus about 46.2%.

Sources: 1. OS card HU 43 NW 5 (with plan): 2. RCAHMS 1946, vol. 3, no. 1247, 70-2 and figs. 574-5 and 578-9 (plates): 3. Carter, McCullagh and MacSween 1996, 464-67.

E W MacKie 2002

Field Visit (2 September 2015)

This probable broch with later modifications is a scheduled monument. It has a SW facing entrance with an exterior diameter of 19.5 metres, walls 4.5 metres width. To the north is a series of three walls and ditches that span the promontory which is about 45 metres. Numerous cells and galleries are visible and roughly two floors are still visible.

Visited by Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) 2 September 2015

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