Archaeology Orkney

Caithness Broch Festival 2017 Underway

Bruan Broch, Caithness

A Celebration of Archaeology in Caithness

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Caithness Broch Project have teamed up to begin the first phase of the exciting Caithness Broch Festival.

The Caithness Broch Festival is a year-long programme of heritage and archaeology projects for 2017-2018, focusing on exploring the broch sites of Caithness.

There are more broch sites in Caithness than anywhere else in Scotland and yet there have been few recent explorations of these massive, tower like Iron Age structures.

The community archaeology project will begin with surveys of Bruan Broch, near Lybster, on the 15th & 16th August 2017 and Thing’s Va Broch, near Thurso, on the 17th & 18th August 2017. The local community and visitors to the area are invited to see how archaeologists undertake Magnetic and Earth Resistance surveys at these two important Iron Age structures. The sites will be open from 10am to 3pm each day of the survey. See map below…

The overall project aims to involve the community and provide hands-on training in basic archaeological techniques and establish through geophysics, fieldwalking, trial-trenching and work with local school groups the following:

Situated in a stunning coastal location, Bruan Broch is an outstanding example of an Iron Age Broch settlement that has possible outbuildings associated with the main structure.

Thing’s Va Broch, Caithness

Thing’s Va broch is also a well-preserved example of an Iron Age broch settlement, which has surviving elements of the interior including a cell within the outer wall. Interestingly, the site name suggests that it was used in the Norse period as a meeting place and other accounts suggest that there are earlier Neolithic or Bronze Age structures on the site. The overall project hopes to shed light on the existence of these activities.

The Caithness Broch Project is a community led archaeological organisation which aims to promote the existence of broch sites, undertake community archaeology projects in Caithness and eventually create a replica broch as it would have appeared 2000 years ago.

The Caithness Broch Festival will provide opportunities for local people and visitors to the area to engage with local archaeology – for many, their first opportunity to do so – whilst conducting significant archaeological research.

The overall aim is for these activities to develop a skilled and engaged group that can develop and sustain archaeological projects within the county. Participants will also contribute to the wider understanding of broch sites in Caithness and their landscapes and present the results in a temporary exhibition at Caithness Horizons Museum.

Photographs: Thanks to Chris Sinclair.


Notes on Geophysical Survey & Archaeology

Geophysical survey in archaeology uses a wide range of non-intrusive techniques to reveal buried archaeological features, sites and landscapes.

Geophysical survey is a rapid and cost-effective means of exploring large areas and is used widely in commercial and research archaeology. It is quite often one of the first techniques to be employed on a site, prior to ground-breaking, and the results can be used to determine the location of any trenches.

Some techniques complement each other, such as magnetic survey and earth resistance survey, which will be used in this project.

Magnetic Survey

Magnetic survey measures localized variations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by features in the top metre or so of the ground. The technique is especially suited to locating ditches, pits, pottery and tile kilns, hearths and ovens, ferrous debris, and burnt material.

Users need to be free of magnetic material, such as zips on clothing, when carrying out the survey.

Earth Resistance Survey

Earth resistance survey involves electrical currents being fed into the ground and the measurement of any resistance to the flow of these currents. Where the current meets buried walls, it will record high resistance readings. Where the current meets an infilled ditch, low resistance readings will result.

The method, then, is particularly suited to locating walls and rubble spreads, made surfaces such as roads or yards, and stone coffins or cists. The technique can also be used to locate ditches and pits in areas where magnetic survey is not suitable, for example due to the nature of the soils or the presence of large amounts of ferrous material on or beneath the surface.

Resistance survey is a slower method than gradiometer survey and, as such, will be used to target specific areas of interest identified in the magnetic survey.


The community archaeology project is funded from the Tannach & District Wind Farm Charitable Trust Fund supported by Foundation Scotland, Bailie Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund and the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund.