Iron Age Britain is marked by the domestic architecture of the period. Broadly speaking, in Britain, we see the roundhouse as the quintessential dwelling style. Styles include the Atlantic Roundhouse, Wheelhouse, Crannog, and Broch. The latter is exclusive to Scotland. The most famous examples of surviving Brochs are in the northern isles and Scatterlands (Orkney and Shetland).
Roundhouses, an example shown below, utilized wattle and daub panels and a thatched roof, and were typically 5-15m in diameter.
Crannogs are roundhouses built on artificial islands on lochs, and are found in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Crannogs were used as dwelling from the european neolithic period to the 18th century, but are particularly indicative of Bronze and Iron Age dwelling styles. Check out The Scottish Crannog Centre, Loch Tay, Perthshire, Scotland.
Brochs are Iron Age drystone round dwelling structures found in Scotland, exclusively, with many spectactular examples in the Caithness-Orkney-Shetland culture triangle. I consider Brochs to be badass Iron Age Scottish castles, with their central ground level communal area, spiral outer staircases, and ‘apartment’ style familial unit dwellings. Pictured below are Dun Carloway Broch on the Isle of Lewis, and Broch of Mousa in Shetland.
The wellknown Midhowe Broch in Roussay, Orkney is central to a surrounding Iron Age settlement surrounded by smaller buildings and structures, including the Midhowe chambered cairn. These outbuildings were likely originally used as smaller houses and later become specialized workshops, including one with a surviving iron smelting hearth. Midhowe Broch includes a surviving water tank, hearth, and room walls.
Wheelhouses are more complex roundhouses, distinct to the northern and western isles (Hebrides and Scatterlands), Caithness, and Sutherland (author’s note: I am continuing to explore the interelated cultural community that I believe formed and thrived in the Germanic Iron Age in the north Atlantic). Notable examples of wheelhouses include Jarlshof (Shetland) and Gurness (Orkney). So many interesting nuances when exploring wheelhouses of the Iron Age. Average sizes are 4m -11.5m in diameter, and were constructed between 25 BCE and 380AD (a significantly smaller date range than the other dwelling styles). The majority of the “aisled roundhouse” style (the distinctly Hebridean/Scottish style wheelhouse) are unique in that they are not associated with Broch sites, unlike the wheelhouses found elsewhere, and they were typically dug into the landscape with only their thatched roof visible above ground. This, their limited scope of geographical range, and their dates corresponding with Roman occupation in southern Scotland, may indicate that this dwelling style was characteristic of a “frontier” culture that may have been policical or defensive in nature. Wheelhouses have also been suggested to have been ritualistic edifices. This idea comes from a three distinct and unique features: (1) animals were buried under the floor (most common finds are of lamb bones), (2) a large portion of sites include a menhir (middle Bronze Age standing stone), and (3) the use of red and black mortar.
Pictured below: Gurness in Orkney, Old Scatness in Shetland, Jarlshof in Shetland (interior and exterior)
Maeshowe, while Neolithic in origin, lays a breaktaking foundation for the cultural practice of chambered cairns in Scotland, and Orkney specifically. This chambered cairn / passage grave is most well known for the planetary alignment each year on the winter solstice. (There’s also some pretty cool Pictish and Viking graffiti on the interior walls)
Mine howe, one of the most famous Orcadian burial site, is an Iron Age subterranean chambered Cairn in Tankerness, just south of Kirkwall.
Midhowe Cairn, as mentioned above, is associated with the Midhowe Broch and is found on the coast of Roussay, Orkney.