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Holm of Copister, broch 850m south west of Southerness

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.483 / 60°28'58"N

Longitude: -1.1429 / 1°8'34"W

OS Eastings: 447210

OS Northings: 1178007

OS Grid: HU472780

Mapcode National: GBR R1J1.2Z4

Mapcode Global: XHF8D.JRNY

Entry Name: Holm of Copister, broch 850m SW of Southerness

Scheduled Date: 21 June 1934

Last Amended: 7 June 2012

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2091

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: broch

Location: Yell

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises a broch of Iron Age date, built probably between 500 BC and AD 200, and the remains of two outer defences. The broch is visible as a grassy mound standing 6m high. The base of the wall is visible on the E side, while on the W side part of an upper gallery, 0.9m wide, is visible within the wall at the wall head. The wall is here 3.1m thick and the broch has an overall diameter of 18.15m. The broch is surrounded by a rampart 1.4m -1.8m high. The interior of the broch is faced with stone and is near vertical where exposed on the NW and SE sides; the outer face is battered. The rampart has a maximum thickness of 4.7m at the base. On the NW side of the broch, which is the lowest part of the island and facing Yell, an additional ditch and bank lie outside the rampart. The broch and its outworks occupy almost the whole of the small island known as the Holm of Copister. The island is 150m from the S shore of Yell at high tide, but at low tide the channel is less than 20m wide. The monument lies less than 10m above sea level, towards the E side of the sound that separates Mainland and Yell. The monument was first scheduled in 1934 but the documentation does not meet modern standards; the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, 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 scheduled area extends to the mean low water mark of the Holm of Copister.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Although the broch has partially collapsed, the surviving mound is in good condition. It is highly probable that substantial buried remains of the broch's lower courses, including walls and galleries, are preserved beneath the tumble that forms the mound. Part of a mural stair was traceable in 1890. The earthwork defences suggest further complexity, and there is potential that these defences were used before or after the primary occupation of the broch tower. On the E side, the rampart and the broch wall are connected by a grassy bank that has evidence for coursed masonry at the base of both sides. The rampart lies about 10m from the base of the broch mound. Within the N side of this enclosure, there is a large stone set on end and a short stretch of walling, both of which may be of similar date to the broch. In the same enclosure to the NW of the broch are the foundations of a later rectangular stone building. Beyond the rampart on the NW side there is a ditch about 4.5m wide, narrowest to the N where it is cut through the rock, and beyond that is an upcast bank about 2.7m wide that rises 1.2m above the base of the ditch.

It is clear that buried archaeological deposits exist that can enhance our understanding of both the broch and the external defences. Future investigation may allow future researchers to date the construction of the broch, and to compare this with the dates of the rampart defences and other structures. In addition, the buried remains have considerable potential to enhance understanding of the use and function of brochs and the daily lives of the people who occupied them. There is high potential for the survival of artefacts and ecofacts that may illuminate the diet, economy and social status of the occupants, and the extent to which this varied over time. Although the sound between the island and Yell carries fast-flowing water at high tide, it is possible that access to the broch was available by foot at low tide and there is potential for the remains of a causeway to survive.

Contextual characteristics

This broch is one of over 130 known 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 other contemporary settlement types and the wider landscape. Brochs have been viewed as having a defensive or offensive function, or simply as being the prestige dwellings of an elite keen to display its status. The buried remains here have high potential to help address these questions and may provide insight into the nature and use of these structures and the landscape immediately around them. There is considerable potential to compare the outer defences to those of many other brochs, for example, those at Burland and Underhoull.

Associative characteristics

The monument is depicted on the Ordnance Survey first edition map and is labelled 'Brough'.

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. The monument offers potential to study the relationship between the broch, two outer defences, and other structures enclosed within the defences. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the development and use of brochs in Shetland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as HU47NE 1. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR records the site as MSN2319 (PrefRef 2202).


Acland, C L, 1890 'Notes on the Broch of Copister in Yell Sound, Shetland', PSAS, 24. 473-4.

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. 116-7

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. 162-3.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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