Broch of Mousa

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Broch of Mousa
Mousa Broch 20080821 02.jpg
Mousa Broch exterior
Location Mousa, Shetland
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Type Broch
Periods Iron Age
Site notes
Ownership Historic Scotland

Broch of Mousa (or Mousa Broch) is the finest preserved example of an Iron Age broch or round tower in Shetland, Scotland. It is the tallest still standing in the world and amongst the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe. It is thought to have been constructed c. 100 BC, one of 570 brochs built throughout Scotland. The site is managed by Historic Scotland.


The broch is located on the western shore of the island of Mousa (grid reference HU457237). It is accessible by boat from Sandwick, Shetland, 14 miles south of Lerwick.[1] It stands on the flat rock surface of a low promontory near the shore overlooking Mousa Sound.[2]

It is the tallest broch still standing in the world[3] and amongst the best-preserved prehistoric buildings in Europe.[4]


Shoreside location of Mousa Broch

Mousa Broch has one of the smallest overall diameters of any broch, as well as one of the thickest wall bases and smallest interiors; this massive construction (as well as its remote location) is likely to be the main explanation for its excellent state of preservation.[5] It stands 13.3 metres high and is accessible via a single entrance at ground level.[5] Once inside, a visitor may ascend an internal staircase to an open walkway at the top.[5] It is the only broch which is complete right to the top, including the original intramural stair. It is built of dry stone with no mortar.[2] The entrance is on the west side but has been enlarged and altered from its original appearance.[5] The entrance passage is 5 metres long and still has its original bar-hole.[2]

File:Mousa Broch 20080821 03.jpg
Mousa Broch interior

Inside a hearth and floor tank can be seen in the central space.[2] There is a low stone bench around the base of the inside wall, which must have been an early alteration to the interior.[2] The broch went through at least two phases of occupation. In its original condition it may have contained a wooden roundhouse resting on the scarcement ledges and presumably on a ring of posts set into the primary floor.[2] At a later date this must have been demolished to make way for a small wheelhouse (with three projecting stone piers) in the interior.[2] Scarcement ledges at heights of 2.1 and 3.7 metres would have supported these timber buildings.[5] The other main feature of the ground floor is the three large cells within the walls.[5] They are entered via thresholds which are 0.7 metres above the floor level.[5] Above the lintel of each cell door are further openings which seem designed to let light and air into the chamber behind.[2] The cells all have recesses, or large cupboards, set into the thickness of the wall.[5]

Above the solid base of the broch are five galleries preserved complete, part of a sixth is complete and roofed and the bottom part of a seventh rests on the sixth.[2] The galleries are formed by the space between the two concentric walls of the upper part of the broch,[2] and are partly lit by three voids.[5] It is possible to walk along most of the galleries,[2] although ready access is blocked by the staircase.[5] The stair, which begins at the second level, is reached by a doorway in the inner wall face, which has an adjacent cell.[2] There is also an upper cell above the entrance passage.[2]

Later history

File:Atop Mousa broch.jpg
Intact top walkway of Mousa Broch

Mousa Broch continued to be used over the centuries and is mentioned in two Norse Sagas. This may have been the time when the entrance passage was extended upwards.[2] Egil's Saga tells of a couple eloping from Norway to Iceland who were shipwrecked and used the broch as a temporary refuge.[6] The Orkneyinga Saga gives an account of a siege of the broch by Earl Harald Maddadsson in 1153 following the abduction of his mother who was held inside the broch.[6]

The site was visited by the antiquarian George Low during his tour of 1774 and he provided the first drawings of the broch.[2] It was visited by Sir Walter Scott in 1814, who described it as "a Pictish fortress, the most entire probably in the world."[7] The antiquarian Samuel Hibbert visited it in 1822 and provided a detailed account of the site.[2] The first accurate survey was conducted by Sir Henry Dryden in 1852.[2]


Mousa was cleared of debris in 1861 and great quantities of animal bones, especially of otters (which probably inhabited the deserted ruin) were found.[2] Also found were pieces of a clay pot, stone pot lids, a slaty stone about 12 inches long "like a three-cornered file" and a "carved model of a Norway boat in fir" about 3 inches long.[2] The interior was cleared again by the Office of Works in 1919, but no finds are mentioned. In the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh are some pottery sherds, including a large black-burnished rim sherd, probably found during the 19th century clearance.[2]

In January 2005 it was announced that archaeologists used 3D laser scanning to catalogue the structure in detail for possible repairs. With the scans it is now possible to see how the structure was constructed in detail.[8]

Storm petrels

Mousa Broch is well known among birders for its breeding European storm-petrels, which are best seen after dark on partly or on completely overcast summer nights. The island holds around 6,800 breeding pairs in total, representing about 8% of the British population and about 2.6% of the world population.[9][10] Some of these birds nest in burrows within the broch itself.

See also


  1. Mousa Broch at Historic Scotland. Retrieved 15 September 2014
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 RCAHMS. "Mousa, Broch of Mousa (944)". Canmore. Retrieved 15 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Fojut, Noel (1981)"Is Mousa a broch?" Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. 111 pp. 220-228.
  4. Armit, I. (2003) Towers in the North: The Brochs of Scotland, page 15 Stroud. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-1932-3
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Ritchie, J N G (1998). Brochs of Scotland. Shire Publications. pp. 26–7. ISBN 0747803897.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ritchie, J N G (1998). Brochs of Scotland. Shire Publications. pp. 43–4. ISBN 0747803897.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Ritchie, J N G (1998). Brochs of Scotland. Shire Publications. p. 25. ISBN 0747803897.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Mystery of ancient broch unlocked after 2000 years ?" Glasgow Herald
  9. Ratcliffe, N., D. Vaughan and M. White (1998) The status of Storm Petrels on Mousa, Shetland Scottish Birds 19:154-159
  10. Harrop, Hugh and David Tipling (2002) The Storm Petrels of Mousa Birding World 15(8):332-333

Further reading

  • Armit, I. (2003) Towers in the North: The Brochs of Scotland. Stroud. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-1932-3
  • E W MacKie 2002 The roundhouses, brochs and wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c. 700 BC - 500: architecture and material culture. Part 1: the Orkney and Shetland Isles. BAR British series 342: Oxford. Section 2 and site HU46 6, pp. 82–87 & illustrations.
  • RCAHMS 1946, vol. 3, no. 1206, pp. 48–55 & illustrations. (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) Edinburgh.
  • Henry Dryden (1890). "Notes of the Brocks or "Pictish Towers" of Shetland" (pdf). Archaeologia Scotica: Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 5: 207–211. Retrieved 2007-12-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links