MHG2151 - Broch, Ness


No summary available.

Type and Period (3)

  • BROCH (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SETTLEMENT (Undated)
  • WELL (Undated)

Protected Status

Full Description

Broch (NR) OS 1:10,000 map, (1975)

Ness Broch (Anderson 1901), remains of a 2nd to 3rd century (Young 1964) broch situated at landward end of a promontory which is cut off at neck by a strong wall. Accompanying settlement lies both inside and outside wall.
The broch, which was excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry between 1890 and 1901, and re-excavated by MacKie in 1972, has had a diameter of 22ft within a wall about 15ft thick, with 2 unchecked entrances, one, simple, facing SW or landward and other, with a guard chamber on S side, facing E or seaward. The broch wall has been so damaged that its faces are virtually untraceable, only secondary walling giving an approximate indication of its line. Bronze ingots, an ingot mould, and links of a bronze chain were found in a mural chamber to N of E entrance.
The wall across neck of promontory is 6ft high and has a depression in front of it in which there is a well, 9ft 6ins deep, but now filled in, roofed with slabs and having twelve steps leading down to it. The RCAHMS plan suggests that there is a continuation of wall on opposite side of ravine to N of peninsula, indicating that it has been cut by natural erosion.
Likewise, settlement lies on both sides of ravine. One of chambers on N side has a tank-like construction of slabs set into floor, and an annexe 9ft by 6ft, walls of which are 4ft high, with a base of slabs set on edge. There are also remains of less well preserved outbuildings on peninsula E of broch. The local name for site, 'byke Yards' (ONB 1873) may be an indication of the original shape of the outbuildings, since a 'dyke' was a beehive-shaped granary (Jamieson 1818). Finds from Sir Francis Tress Barry's excavation were donated to NMAS1908.
J Anderson 1901; PSAS 1908; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910;
A Young 1964; Name Book 1873; J Jamieson 1818; E W MacKie 1972.

Ness Broch, generally as described and planned, is situated on a sheer promontory, its outer face having been destroyed by erosion on N and SE and being visible only at E entrance. Erosion has also reduced outer wall across promontory, and an outbuilding on landward side of broch. Only a slight depression marks position of well and there is no trace of the 'tank-like structure' in outer enclosure.
At ND 3810 6665, to W of broch, is a grass-covered stony mound, 0.8m high and 8m diameter which may be an original feature or spoil from excavation. A modern monument has been built seaward of broch.
Resurveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (N K B) 16 9 1965.

Broch of Ness has been identified with 'Lambaborg', mentioned at about 1143 in Orkneyinga Saga, where adventurer Sweyn Asleifsson stood siege (but see also ND36NE 7). A broad ditch cuts promontory immediately outside massively stone-revetted rampart.
R G Lamb 1980.

No change. Visited by OS (J B) 21 July 1982.

This site was included in Mackie's 2007 'The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC - AD 500: Architecture and material culture'. See link below to HES Canmore record which includes the chapter on this site. <1>

The broch is included in the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland online database. See link below for site entry. <2>

There is a bone playing piece in the NMS (GA 743) which is dated to Norse period (1000-1200), suggesting there was Norse reuse of the site. Other finds, acquired 1908, include: bone needle and pins, bone implements, bone handle, crucible, horse tooth, bronze ring-headed pin, bronze rings, copper alloy ingot, bronze bar, pottery sherds and 2 polished pebbles (Acc. Nos GA 736-GA 752, GA 857f-g, GA 902). <3>

A hammerstone is listed in the Caithness Horizons catalogue as from 'Swein's House, Canisbay'. This is likely to be referring to Sweyn Asleifsson and Lambaborg Castle. Both Ness Broch and Bucholly Castle (MHG1664) have been identified as the potential site of Lambaborg, and the hammerstone is likely to be from one of these two sites. It is listed under Acc. No. ARC76. <4>

Sources/Archives (11)



Grid reference Centred ND 3813 6665 (160m by 160m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND36NE
Civil Parish CANISBAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (13)

  • CHAIN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • INGOT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • INGOT MOULD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • GAMING PIECE (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • NEEDLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • PIN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • CRUCIBLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • PIN (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • RING (Undated)
  • SHERD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HANDLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (3)

Comments and Feedback

Do you have any more information about this record? Please feel free to comment with information and photographs, or ask any questions, using the "Disqus" tool below. Comments are moderated, and we aim to respond/publish as soon as possible.