Post-broch settlement

Details of the activity on site at The Cairns after the abandonment of the broch around AD180-320.
Plan of The Cairns Excavation
Structures at The Cairns excavation site.

Phase 4 incudes the earliest, immediately post-broch activity on site around the late 2nd/early 3rd Century AD.

Structure K, a large, roughly rectangular building was established at this time on the northern side of the settlement and it partly overlay the infilled remains of the enclosure ditch. The building may have had a role in metalworking from early on.

Structures Q, R and K also seem to have been established at this time.

It may have been during this time that Structure C1 was founded. It was a large curving building cut directly into the north-eastern section of the remains of the broch wall. The presence of metalworking moulds suggests Structure C may have always had a workshop role.

Aerial view of the excavation site. (Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

Phase 5 sees the establishment of a further stage of post-broch settlement around AD300.

A series of large, rectangular and cellular buildings (known as the Structure B complex) were set up over the infilled remains of the broch on the western side of the broch ruins.

Structure B1, in particular, seems to have been an impressive structure that made use of some of the surviving masonry of the broch ruin. B1 possessed a massive, and complex, three-metre-long hearth and seems to have been the centre of the settlement in this period and is similar to rectangular buildings found at sites like Howe, Stromness, Orkney, or the Wag of Forse, Caithness.

Also, at this time, Structure K, now largely a roofless ruin, was used to provide some shelter and a platform for a socially important episode of metalworking, in particular jewellery-making – as evidenced by an impressive collection of more than 60 fired-clay moulds used to cast bronze pins, rings and penannular brooches.

A massive feasting episode accompanied this metalworking and represents highly important and unique information about the circumstances of the creation of prestige metalwork in the post-broch Iron Age, and the possible gifting scenario that instigated their circulation in society.

Thereafter, a tradition of mass deposition of animal bone midden in this zone was maintained into Phase 6 in the AD400s and 500s.