Life at Clickimin Broch as we (never) knew it

The broch illustration with its rose-tinted view of Iron Age life in Shetland. Click on image to enlarge.
The broch illustration with its rose-tinted view of Iron Age life in Shetland. Click on image to enlarge.

The new interpretive board placed at Clickimin Broch by Historic Scotland showing cosy family scenes has come in for criticism from various quarters for being historically inaccurate.

The board features an artist’s impression of the interior of the broch, with furniture and colourful fabrics, and has cattle living on the ground floor.

Critics say the depiction shows a medieval domestic interior rather than what it was actually thought to have been, an Iron Age defensive structure.

Archivist Brian Smith said: “What bothers me is the nice domestic dwelling, whereas brochs were quite clearly fortifications.” He criticised the “jolly cushions and cushions in the master bedroom” and the man or woman “reesting” amid the fish and clothes above the fire.

He said: “The board is the reductio ad absurdum of everything that has been written about brochs since 1980: the idea that prehistoric monuments always exhibit domesticity, and that the ‘past’ is vaguely connected with the medieval. The irony is that the local people for whom the board has been provided know instinctively that all that is nonsense. I have studied Historic Scotland boards at brochs all over the north and west of Scotland. They all say something different. I would scrap it and start again.”

He also pointed out that the board’s text refers to approaching the structure over a “promontory”, which is inaccurate.

Archaeologist Val Turner called the board “one of the most imaginative of broch interpretations”

She said: “It is a very peculiar interpretation and wouldn’t be shared by many archaeologists. We don’t know a huge amount about broch interiors because every one excavated has later structures inside.

“It is ludicrous to think they’d have had cattle in the broch, they wouldn’t have got through that door and [they wouldn’t have lived in that smoky atmosphere.” Iron Age cattle would have been too stocky and wide to get in, she said.

A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: “We recognise that there is a long tradition of debate over the age, function and form of the brochs, which we state in the display panel at Clickimin.

“The artist’s impression we include is intended to look beyond what now remains of the broch and think about how our ancestors would have lived.

“The use of textiles and cooking methods shown in the picture are based on other archaeological interpretations of evidence, but, like many people with an interest in our history, we are open to other suggestions as to how life would have been lived at Clickimin.”


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