If Ken McElroy has his way, a highly unusual feature will soon be added to the rugged landscape of Caithness on the northern edge of mainland Britain. He plans to recreate a 50ft tall Iron Age ‘skyscraper’ known as a broch, one of the most intriguing and mysterious building types ever constructed in the British Isles.
The elaborately constructed drystone structures stood several stories high and were only erected in Scotland, with hundreds being built between 600 BC and 100 AD. The identity of the people who built them remains a mystery.
It’s also unclear what the purpose of the construction of these huge windowless structures, which would have towered over the local landscape and been visible for miles, was also unclear. Some historians have suggested that they were built as refuges for local people seeking shelter from Roman slave ships. However, this idea is controversial and is rejected by other scholars, who argue that they were erected by people who wanted to show off their power and status.
Only one relatively intact broch remains today, on the small, now uninhabited island of Mousa in Shetland. McElroy – a director of the Caithness Broch project – plans to create an entirely new version, using traditional techniques including construction methods such as dry stone walls.
“The brochs are the pinnacles of prehistoric architecture,” he asserts. “They were multi-storey but were built without cement, and that’s a remarkable achievement in itself. While the rest of Britain lived in low-level rotundas and the like, these skyscrapers from the age of the iron were being built all over Scotland.
“It is also important to note that Caithness has a higher concentration of broch sites than any other region in Scotland – and this makes the area the best place to tell the distinctive story behind these remarkable buildings.”
Most brochs have imposing walls that were often three meters thick and were lined with spiral staircases running between their interior and exterior cladding. They would probably also have had wooden roofs, a central doorway and other features.
“They were incredibly sophisticated structures for their time,” adds McElroy, an avowed “broch-bragger” who has championed the cause of these strange structures for years.
It highlights three key motives for the construction of Scotland’s first new broch in 2,000 years. “We still don’t know why we build brochs. However, by learning how to build one, we should have a better idea of why they were built,” he says.
In addition, it is hoped that the construction project will help preserve local skills – in the construction of dry stone walls, for example – while creating a tourist attraction for Caithness.
“The region faces a real problem in terms of the demographic decline projected for the next decade. It could be as high as 20%, and it would have a pretty grim impact.
“We need to provide reasons for people to come here, and the broch project should play a key role in boosting tourism and employment,” he adds.
McElroy – who co-founded the Caithness Broch project with fellow archaeologist Iain Maclean – compared the broch project to the construction of Guédelon Castle, which is currently taking place near Treigny, France, with the aim of recreating a 13th century castle century using period techniques. , clothing and materials. “Like Guédelon, the Broch Caithness would be a center of interest when it was built and also a place to visit when completed.”
The first brochs were built over 2,500 years ago during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in Britain.
“The climate started to cool a little around 900 BC and the struggle for resources would have been more difficult,” says McElroy. “Tribes and groups of people began to associate, which led to the formation of kingdoms as the Iron Age progressed.
“I think the brochs reflect those changes where expanding groups wanted to show off their power, and they did that by building these highly sophisticated buildings. They were status symbols.
The Caithness Broch project began operations several years ago and is now closing in on a construction site which McElroy and his colleagues hope to purchase before the end of the year. It is estimated that it will then take at least three or four more years to build the broch with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, crowdfunding and other sources to enable construction of the 1-3 million structure. pound sterling.
The project certainly offers an intriguing vision of the future at the northern tip of the British mainland. Other efforts in the region to provide skilled jobs to the region include the Sutherland Spaceport, which is currently under construction on the A’ Mhòine Peninsula. He hopes to start launching satellites next year.
The juxtaposition of recreating ancient buildings while placing space probes in these nearby remote counties suggests a surprisingly rich mix of attractions for the region.
“Rockets and pins. It looks like a great combination,” says McElroy. “Who wouldn’t be attracted to that?”