Ancient Monuments

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The Burrian, broch 105m north east of Benston

A Scheduled Monument in Shetland North, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.2676 / 60°16'3"N

Longitude: -1.157 / 1°9'25"W

OS Eastings: 446740

OS Northings: 1154003

OS Grid: HU467540

Mapcode National: GBR R1HL.NJ2

Mapcode Global: XHF9K.B6Z2

Entry Name: The Burrian, broch 105m NE of Benston

Scheduled Date: 20 December 1974

Last Amended: 9 August 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3580

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: broch

Location: Nesting

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland North

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises the remains of a circular stone building, probably a broch of Iron Age date built between 500 BC and AD 200. The building is visible as a large turf-covered mound measuring 16.5m in diameter and standing 0.6m high. A short stretch of the curved outer wall face is exposed on the E side of the mound. The monument stands on a rocky knoll at about 20m above sea level, in a location offering views in all directions. The shore of the East Voe of Skellister lies 0.6km to the northeast. The monument was first scheduled in 1974 but the documentation does not meet modern standards; the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is a circle 41m in diameter, 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.

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 almost entirely covered with turf. Although stones have been taken from the building to construct an adjacent croft and other farm buildings, there is no evidence of any disturbance below ground level. It is very probable that substantial buried remains of the building's lower courses, including walls and perhaps galleries, are preserved below ground level. Internal occupation deposits are also likely to survive. Large deposits of midden material have been noted around the structure and several artefacts have been recovered from the knoll, including a broken cushion-type stone mace, a stone hammer and a steatite whorl. Aerial photographs suggest that remains of an outer defence may surround the building, probably a wall or bank and possibly a ditch. Future investigation of the mound and buried remains may allow researchers to ascertain the date and character of the building and confirm whether it is a broch or another type of prehistoric structure, and to assess evidence for the development sequence, duration of use and the nature any external defences. In addition, the buried remains have the potential to enhance understanding of the use and function of brochs and similar structures, and of the daily lives of the people who occupied them. There is high potential for the recovery of additional artefacts and environmental evidence that may illuminate the diet, economy and social status of the occupants and the extent to which this varied over time.

Contextual characteristics

There are more than 130 brochs in Shetland. This structure is also probably a broch and 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 keen to display its status. The buried remains at Benston have the potential to help address these questions and could provide insights into the nature and use of these structures and the landscape immediately around them. There is a direct line of site from this structure to another broch that lies only 0.5km to the WSW, on the Holm of Benston. A third broch, also known as 'The Burrian', lies only 1.2km to the ENE. A homestead and field system lies 0.6km to the northwest and the site of a burial ground and chapel 0.4km to the east. There is therefore high potential to study this structure within the context of the wider archaeological landscape. Just to the southwest of the broch and later croft are three sub-oval depressions with stone walling visible in places. These may represent subsidiary outbuildings, or structures indicative of continued occupation of the site after abandonment of the probable broch.

Associative characteristics

The site is known as 'The Burrian', further suggesting that it represents the remains of a broch.

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 or other types of large circular prehistoric buildings. The monument forms part of a significant cluster of large Iron Age buildings and offers the potential to study the relationship between this structure and two other brochs nearby. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the development and reuse of Iron Age structures in Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




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. 115.

RCAHMS, 1946 The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v Edinburgh. 83.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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