Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Big Howe, broch 260m WNW of Stenness Church

A Scheduled Monument in West Mainland, Orkney Islands

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Latitude: 58.994 / 58°59'38"N

Longitude: -3.2056 / 3°12'20"W

OS Eastings: 330824

OS Northings: 1012495

OS Grid: HY308124

Mapcode National: GBR L4GY.SBQ

Mapcode Global: WH69W.Q6QH

Entry Name: Big Howe, broch 260m WNW of Stenness Church

Scheduled Date: 5 September 2014

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13461

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: broch

Location: Stenness

County: Orkney Islands

Electoral Ward: West Mainland

Traditional County: Orkney


The monument is a broch mound dating probably from the Iron Age (between about 600 BC and AD 400), visible as a pronounced rise in a field of cultivated grassland. The monument was levelled at the beginning of the 20th century, but geophysical surveys in 2002 and 2007 have confirmed that the mound contains the remains of a broch below ground. The results revealed part of a broch tower, approximately 30m in diameter, surrounded by a pear-shaped ditched enclosure. The results also suggested the presence of additional stone structures within the tower. The broch occupies a highly strategic location only 425m SE of the Ness of Brodgar, at about 5m above sea level, overlooking the Loch of Harray and the Loch of Stenness.

The scheduled area is circular on plan, measuring 95m 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 is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of the post-and-wire fence that runs NE-SW across the SE edge of the monument.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

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 society in Orkney and the function, use and development of brochs. Results of geophysical survey indicate that the remains of the broch and ditched enclosure are well-preserved below ground. By analogy with excavated brochs in Orkney, this monument is likely to retain its basal structural characteristics to a marked degree and, together with the ditched enclosure, will certainly contain deposits rich in occupation debris, artefacts and palaeoenvironmental evidence. Its importance is enhanced because of its siting within the Neolithic ritual landscape around the Ness of Brodgar. The Stones of Stenness lie less than 70m to the NW and the late Neolithic settlement of Barnhouse lies only 200m to the NNE. The close proximity of Big Howe broch to these earlier monuments is clearly of significance and has the potential to inform our understanding of the Iron Age community's respect for and appropriation of earlier monuments, perhaps for political or social reasons. Its siting just S of the Ness of Brodgar, a narrow strip of land between the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray, is also likely to have been of strategic significance. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the development, use and re-use of brochs, and the nature of Iron Age society, economy and social hierarchy in Orkney and further afield.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as HY31SW 31. The site lies within the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Area.


Armit, I 2003, Towers of the North: The Brochs of Scotland, Tempus.

Armit, I 2005, 'Land-holding and inheritance in the Atlantic Scottish Iron Age'. In Turner, V E, Dockrill, S J, Nicholson, R A and Bond, J M (eds) 2005, Tall Stories? Two Millennia of Brochs, Shetland Amenity Trust: Lerwick, 129-143.

Ballin Smith, B (ed) 1994, Howe: Four Millennia of Orkney Prehistory, Edinburgh, Soc Antiq Scot Monogr Ser 9.

Cursiter, J W 1923, 'The Orkney Brochs', Proc Orkney Antiq Soc 1, 320.

Hedges, J 1987, Bu, Gurness and the Brochs of Orkney: Parts I, II and III, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 163-165.

Lamb, R G 1980, Iron Age Promontory Forts in the Northern Isles, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 79.

Mackie, E W 2002, The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c 700 BC - AD 500: Architecture and Material Culture, Part 1: The Orkney and Shetland Isles, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 224.

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, 320, no 911.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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