Ancient Monuments

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Sae Breck, broch 510m north west of Garderhouse

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.4854 / 60°29'7"N

Longitude: -1.6187 / 1°37'7"W

OS Eastings: 421054

OS Northings: 1178030

OS Grid: HU210780

Mapcode National: GBR Q1C0.T74

Mapcode Global: XHD1G.9QN2

Entry Name: Sae Breck, broch 510m NW of Garderhouse

Scheduled Date: 8 October 1959

Last Amended: 17 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2064

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: broch

Location: Northmaven

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises a broch of Iron Age date, built probably between 500 BC and AD 200, the remains of an outer wall that has been traced around the broch and a probable external ditch beyond. The broch is visible as a very large turf-covered mound about 30m in diameter and standing 2m high, though researchers believe the broch itself measures about 17m in diameter. The outer wall and probable ditch are visible as slighter earthworks. The outer wall appears to define an area measuring 43m N-S by 39m transversely, running further from the tower on the S side to give a pear-shaped plan. The monument lies on top of a prominent hill towards the south-west of Esha Ness, a promontory that projects into the Atlantic from the W coast of Shetland Mainland. It stands about 60m above sea level and some 600m from the shore. The monument was first scheduled in 1959 but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, measuring 65m maximum from N-S, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of two 20th-century buildings that lie on the NW and SW edges of the monument, and the above-ground elements of an Ordnance Survey triangulation column.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The surviving mound is in good condition and shows no sign of recent damage, although a coastguard watch-hut stood on top of it in the mid 20th century (several concrete pads remain on the mound's surface and ruined modern structures still stand to the NW and SE). It is clear that the broch itself has partially collapsed, but limited archaeological excavation conducted in 1948 demonstrated that substantial buried remains of the broch's lower courses and foundations are preserved beneath the mound. Two opposing sections of the curving main wall were uncovered on the N and S sides, each standing 1.5m high, with an open cell preserved in the wall interior. The N cell was empty, but that within the S wall contained a clay floor covered by peat ash up to 0.2m thick, from which limpet shells and pot sherds were recovered. The broch walls are 4.7m thick and enclose a central space 8m in diameter. The position of the earthwork outer wall was recorded and two sections were excavated across it to the north and north-east of the broch. These demonstrated that the wall is a rampart 3m thick, faced with dry stone that retains an inner core of sand and gravel, extracted probably from a surrounding ditch. The outer wall is laid out asymmetrically relative to the broch tower. It stands 4.5m away from the broch to the west, but further away elsewhere and as much as 15m away to the south.

The uneven ground surface south of the broch suggests the possibility of chambers or outlying buildings of a later period. These features, together with the outer wall, suggest that this is a complex, multi-phase monument, probably containing evidence for a long development sequence that may include re-use of the site after the abandonment of the broch tower. Excavation has demonstrated that buried archaeological deposits associated with the monument's construction, use and abandonment are well preserved. These may allow future researchers to date construction of the broch, and compare this with the dates of the rampart defences and possible later structures. In addition, the buried remains have considerable potential to enhance understanding of the use and function of brochs in general and the daily lives of the people who occupied them. There is high potential for the presence of further artefacts and ecofacts that may illuminate the diet, economy, and social status of the occupants and the extent to which this varied over time.

Contextual characteristics

This broch is one of around two hundred in Shetland. It has the potential to enhance our understanding of the relationship between brochs, the extent to which they were contemporary, and their relationship with the wider landscape. Brochs have been viewed as having a defensive or offensive function, or simply as being the prestige dwellings and farms of an elite strata in society, keen to display its status. The buried remains at Sae Breck have potential to contribute to these questions and may provide insight into the nature and use of these structures and the landscape immediately around them. The possible structures on the S side of the broch mound can be compared to early historic structures at other Shetland brochs, such as Burraland on the E coast of Mainland.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of Iron Age Shetland and the role and function of brochs there. The monument offers potential to study the relationship between the broch itself and an outer rampart, and to compare the use of the broch with that of possible later structures on its S side. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the Iron Age in Shetland, especially the development and re-use of brochs.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




Calder, C S T, 1954 'Report on the partial excavation of a broch at Sae Breck, Eshaness in the parish of Northmavine, Shetland', PSAS, 86, 178-186.

Mackie, E W 2002, The roundhouses, brochs and wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700BC-AD500: architecture and material culture, Part 1: The Orkney and Shetland Isles. BAR British Series 342: Oxford.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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