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TRAIGH NA BERIE, LEWIS - Atlantic Round House

TRAIGH NA BERIE, LEWIS - Atlantic Round House


ATLANTIC ROUND HOUSE (Early Iron Age to Post-Roman Iron Age - 800 BC to 800 AD)
Iron Age settlement, focused on island broch


NB 1034 3516

Full description:

NB13NW 3 1034 3516.

The remains of a probable broch lie on the grassy flat S of Traigh na Berie and 400 yards from the shore. All that remains is a stony mound, 4' in maximum height, showing the outer foundation course of building in position for a considerable part of the circumference. The only measurement obtainable is the external diameter, which is 55'. The wall has been at least 10' thick, and the entrance, which is quite destroyed, has been from the NE.
RCAHMS 1928, visited 1914.

This broch, at NB 1034 3516, remains as a low grassy mound in which the outer wall face can be seen for most of the periphery except in the W giving an overall diameter of 16.5m. An inner face can be seen for a short stretch in the NE where the wall is 2.9m thick, but whether this is the true inner face, or part of a gallery, is impossible to say. The entrance is indicated by a hollow in the E. There is a causeway across the loch immediately W of the broch. This appears to be modern and built with stones from the broch, but it may overlie or replace an original causeway, as it appears that the broch once occupied an island, the land to the E having been a marsh.
Surveyed at 1:2500.
Visited by OS (R L) 28 June 1969.

Preliminary excavation indicated that the site has undergone several phases of building and alteration, with much subsequent stone robbing. In one of the later phases the interior was reused with the erection of slab facing stones and a soil and rubble infill revetted against the original broch inner wall. Artefacts recovered included bone, pottery, a fired clay spindle whorl and a hammerstone.
D W Harding, P G Topping and I Armit 1985.

The second season of excavations concentrated on the secondary structure occupying the broch interior. This structure is built by a distinctive technique whereby large flat upright slabs are revetted against a mass of material against the inner broch wall and the wall is then heightened by the addition of more conventional horizontal coursing using the slabs as a base. Variations in walling and the rebuilding of the entrance suggest multiple building phases. This structural type has its closest Hebridean parallel at Dun Cuier in Barra dated by the excavator to the 7th to 8th Century. The Berie example has, however, a more complex cellular plan and is reminiscent in both layout and building technique of Picting period structures in the Orkneys.
The broch itself is a ground galleries circular structure 18m in overall diameter with walls totalling 3.5m in width. The most significant feature of this season's work was the discovery of a clear scarcement ledge, 35cm in width, below which is the top of a lintelled entrance from the broch interior into the gallery, all sealed below the secondary structure. It has become clear that the original broch floor levels are at least 1m below the present ground level and below the adjacent Loch na Berie. We have, therefore, considerable problems of retrieval but clearly enormous potential for the survival of organic materials in a primary broch context sealed in antiquity. It has also been possible to begin excavation of apparently primary deposits on the only marginally displaced capstones of the upper gallery floor.
Finds, mainly from secondary contexts, have included bone and bronze pins, clay 'spindle whorls', antler pegs, a number of iron objects and a blue bead. Pottery has been abundant and has included sherds with distinctive Iron Age decoration.
D W Harding and I Armit 1986.

The third and fourth seasons of excavation were carried out during Easter and Autumn 1987. A secondary structure is a substantial drystone and slab-built construction partially revetted into pre-existing deposits within the broch interior. It is cellular in plan, consisting of a large circular chamber re-using the broch entrance, and a peripheral curving cell, leading from the main chamber, which has been subject to alteration. The structure has a central hearth, slightly constructed interior divisions and paving of its main entrance and of the entrance to the peripheral cell. Two 'shelves' built into the wall across the hearth from the main entrance form a striking though enigmatic parallel with the similar features at Dun Cuier.
The dating of the structure is problematic in the absence of a well defined artefactual sequence for the area in this period. Pottery is undecorated and dominated by large jars with flaring rims. The association of this pottery with composite combs, bronze tweezers, crucibles and a substantial assemblage of bone pins, points to a date in the Pictish or pre-Norse period. Work on earlier 'Broch period' deposits has been confined to the gallery where excavations have commenced at the first floor level. The pottery assemblage here is characteristically Iron Age and wholly distinct from that of the secondary structure. It is now clear that, below scarcement level, the broch and its primary deposits are entirely waterlogged. Under the first floor gallery capstones lies approximately 1m of water over a further 1m of deposits. D W Harding and I Armit 1987

Further excavations were carried out during September and October of 1988. After the abandonment of the broch a series of slab-revetted cellar structures was built in the cleared interior. The penultimate structure excavated this year consisted of a Figure-of-Eight shaped building with walls formed of vertical slabs revetted against pre-existing midden material. A central hearth dominated the main cell with a further peripheral hearth apparently contemporary. Other internal features included a kerbed partition around part of the cell wall near the hearth and two 'niches' recessed in the wall, similar to those in the latest structure. In its spatial arrangement, construction and material culture this structure is very similar to its successor.
Finds from the floor of this structure included a finely incised flat bronze penannular brooch, lacking its pin, decorated with hatched panels. The brooch has expanded terminals with cross-hatched incised lozenges.
In situ floor deposits have been excavated on the first floor of the broch gallery around most of the circuit. The first floor gallery capstones are still intact over all but a small arc on the south where a ground floor cell is uncovered. Five steps survive of a staircase to the second floor level and collapsed capstones of this second upper gallery have been found over the first floor occupation material. Below the first floor capstones the broch has an unusual ground plan with six separate cells in the eastern half of its circuit (including a 'guard cell' off the main entrance) and a conventional gallery for most of its western half. From this gallery the stairs run up through the first towards the second floor. Access to the continuous first floor gallery entails entering the broch interior at an entrance halfway up the stairs and doubling back through an adjacent entrance into the gallery. These two first floor gallery entrances lie at the level of the scarcement. Secondary occupation of the interior did not involve the use of the galleries except as a midden dump, and by the period of the latest interior structures the two first floor gallery entrances (and of course all of the ground floor entrances) had been sealed by accumulating debris.
Material recovered from the galleries is entirely distinct from that of the later interior structures and includes quantities of highly decorated incised and cordoned pottery. Other finds included a decorated bone weaving comb.
D W Harding and I Armit 1988.

A short season of excavation in August 1993, concentrated on the clarification of the post-broch, pre-Pictish period occupation within the interior of the derelict broch.
The immediately pre-Pictish phase of settlement was represented by a series of small, cellular buildings, characterisedby walls which combined horizontal, dry-stone coursing with substantial edge-set slabs and by corbelled roofs, the collpased remains of which could initially be mistaken for the remains of severely slumped walls. The principal building of this group was evidently multi-cellular, and may originally have been shamrock-shaped in its layout. Two cells of this building survived with well-defined walls. The remaining cell or cells have yet to be satisfactorily defined by excavation, though an adjoining length of walling suggests that the SW cells of the shamrock may have re-used the surviving permieter cells of an earlier wheelhouse in a similar manner to that of the post-wheelhouse occupation at Cnip (Armit, op cit, 94-5). Within the shamrock, a central hearth was defined by small, edge-set slabs, and bedded in the floor of its two main cells were four fragments of disc querns, evidently re-used from an earlier occupation. To the W of this principal structure was a simpler cellular building abutting the inner broch wall, while to the NW and E, two further possible cells require further excavation. The N and NE sector of the interior in this phase of occupation was filled with a dense deposit of shell-midden.
The other principal post-broch structure was a substantial stone-built roundhouse, the coursed walling of which had been recognised in 1989 immediately inside the inner broch wall around its south-eastern and south-western sectors. The continuation of this wall has now been located at several points around the northern half of the broch interior, gaps in its circuit being the result of the intrusive construction of the subsequent cellular buildings. A crucial discovery in 1993, however, was of a radial pier projecting inwards from this wall adjacent to the former broch entrance on the E, confirming the identification of this structure as a post-broch wheelhouse.
Between the wheelhouse occupation and the phase of cellular buildings, an intermediate structural phase appears to be represented by a short arc of walling within the NE sector of the interior which was truncated at its southern end by the phase of cellular building, and at its northern end terminates at a butt-end, which may have formed one side of an entrance. Clarification of the plan of this putative smaller roundhouse may be hampered by the extent of subsequent re-building in later phases.
Finally, at several points around the broch scarcement, sizeable vertical slabs have been revealed, which are too regular in their disposition to be regarded as tumbled or displaced. If they belonged to a single structural feature, then they should be post-broch, since three on the NE side block the entrance from the interior into gallery 5, but pre-wheelhouse, given the location of several behind the wheelhouse wall in the SW quadrant. Others occur elsewhere around the scarcement edge, where later re-building has now removed them. The purpose of this structural feature remains at present uncertain.
If the relative structural sequence seems clear enough, absolute dates are more difficult to assign at present. In conjunction with other sites in the immediate vicinity, there seems to be a fair prospect in due course of establishing a useable ceramic seuqence, but at present the structures uncovered in 1993 can only be attributed tentatively to the first half of the first millenium AD.
Several cores taken by Mr M Cressey in broch galleries 1 and 5 established that the bedrock on which the broch was founded lies variously between 2m and 2.5m beneath the surviving capstones of the ground floor galleries. Further analysis of the cores is in progress.
Sponsor: University of Edinburgh, Department of Archaeology
D W Harding 1993.

A further season's excavation in July and August 1994, revealed more detail of the post-broch pre-Pictish occupation which had been exposed in 1993 (supra) within the area defined by the inner broch wall, and which was characterised by cellular construction and corbelled roofing of a series of small, but conjoined or closely-related units.
The principal unit, provisionally described as a 'shamrock' on analogy with the Pictish-period building at Gurness, appears to have comprised two conjoined cells (1a and 1b) facing SW into an open court, the SW side of which, adjacent to the former broch scarcement, appears to have been at least partially roofed. Access to this structure from the main
entrance, which followed the line of the original broch entrance to the E, was by means of a paved passage around the inner edge of the broch wall on its SE circuit. This passage had supported a corbelled roof, and had a narrow central drain along part of its length. These buildings displayed several phases of structural modification, as was indicated by refacing of walls, resurfacing of paving and rebuilding of hearths. In one of the more significant of these, a projecting pier (previously believed to be the projecting pier of a wheelhouse, but now seen as a similar structural element to the projecting wall between Cell 1a and Cell 1b) was inserted adjacent to the main entrance on its southern side, overlying the passage paving (which it therefore cannot pre-date), and effectively blocking access to the 'shamrock' from this direction. The remodelled passage, with its central drain likewise rebuilt, thus resembles in this secondary phase a souterrain leading away from the 'shamrock'. The previous identification of the projecting pier and the passage wall in the SE quadrant as part of an earlier wheelhouse is now plainly wrong, though this need not discredit the existence of an earlier roundhouse, based upon evidence from a lower level around the northern sector of the interior of the broch.
Cells 1a and 1b themselves now appear to represent the rebuilding of an earlier, larger unit of which the element designated Cell 6 was partially exposed in 1994. The NE sector of this structure has yet to be defined clearly, and may indeed have been destroyed in the re-modelling of the souterrain-passage, as a result of which a more direct means of access appears to have been created into the interior. A striking feature of Cell 6, however, is a rectangular trough defined by edge-set stones, the floor of which comprised a baked clay surface decorated with finger-stroked hatched squares, in a manner resembling floor-tiles. It is hoped to expose the full extent of this feature in 1995. The northern half of the interior was occupied by several further cellular structures. Cell 4 had been exposed in 1994, and this area will certainly require further clarification in 1995. In the NE quadrant the presumed smaller roundhouse wall from 1994 can now be seen to be integral to the network of cells in this sector, provisionally designated Cells 5 and 7. Cell 7 evidently extended beyond the projected line of the underlying roundhouse wall to terminate by the inner broch wall, where a series of sizeable slabs, set vertically, included three which blocked the entrance from the broch interior into its Gallery 6. In fact, it seems probable that the underlying roundhouse wall itself was interrupted at this point to allow access through this entrance into the broch gallery. If this transpires to be the case, the earlier assumption that the broch galleries would have survived uncontaminated by later occupation (based upon the fact that all but one of the galleries retained their capstones intact) could prove to be premature.
Excavation of the main entrance has revealed a succession of paved surfaces, the accumulation of which occasioned the need to raise the original broch lintel, until in the final Pictish-period phases it was itself incorporated among the paving slabs of the open entrance passage. These successive levels of paang offer the prospect of a sequence of sealed deposits reflecting the successive phases of occupation.
Finds from the 1994 excavations were more numerous than from previous seasons, and included numerous hammer-stones, polishing-stones, couters, strike-a-light, spindle-whorls, bone and bronze pins, cut antler, an amber bead, a fragment of clay mould and evidence for ?bronze-working, as well as quantities of pottery. The last included a small fragment of a Samian ware platter, sealed between the two levels of paving of the souterrain-passage.
Sponsor: Department of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.
D W Harding, S Gilmour and J Handerson 1994.

NB 103 351 Excavations continued on the post-broch phases of occupation at Berie from June to August 1995 (see Harding, Gilmour and Handerson 1994).
(1) Cells 1a and 1b were removed in their entirety, together with a substantial part of the 'souterrain passage' between 1a and the south-eastern sector of the broch wall. This enabled the hearth within Cell 6 to be completely exposed, revealing the full extent of its decorated clay base and border of edge-set slabs with large cobbles at the undamaged corners. Similar, though less distinctive, constructional elements characterised adjacent hearths to N and S. In the SW quadrant, coursed masonry which was at one stage regarded as the continuation of the Roundhouse wall proved to be part of the Cellular complex, its lowest course resting on the hard peat which over much of the interior underlay the Cellular occupation.
This stonework slumped over piers projecting from the broch wall, and may well have formed part of a corbelled outbuilding attached to the Cell 1a and 1b group, and approximating to the putative 'shamrock' previously proposed. A distinctive feature of the stratigraphy underlying the Cellular buildings was the presence of laid brushwood flooring and fallen timbers, uncarbonised but otherwise well-preserved in the sodden conditions of the site. In the NW quadrant, Cell 4 was found to overlie the continuation from the NE quadrant of Cell 5, defined only by edge-set slabs, but terminating at an entrance defined by a pair of post holes in which the timber posts survived intact.
Cell 7 continued to produce quantities of industrial waste, notably bronze slag and fragments of moulds, including one recognisably of a projecting ring-headed pin. Other finds from the Cellular occupation included small fragments of glass and items of ornamental bronzework.
(2) Within the entrance an upper level of substantial paving was removed to reveal a lower level of paving, both presumed contemporary with the Cellular horizon. To the N of the entrance passage was a small Cell (8), between the inner broch wall and walling which continues the alignment of the underlying Roundhouse wall around the northern circuit of the site, but which is certainly secondary to it. Immediately outside the broch entrance was a substantially-built forecourt. To the S of this forecourt, excavation at a lower level revealed structural features which could be contemporary with the Roundhouse or late Broch phases of occupation.
(3) The Roundhouse wall is now clearly defined in an arc from just N of Cell 3 to the re-entrant into intra-mural Gallery 6 in the NE quadrant. Between this point and the main entrance there is evidence of secondary re-building. The projecting pier to the S of the main entrance, which previously had been regarded as part of any underlying wheelhouse, occupies the same relationship to the earlier Roundhouse. Around the southern half of its circuit, the Roundhouse wall is not so clearly defined, and may have been substantially contiguous with the broch wall itself. Excavation within Roundhouse occupation contexts was limited, but yielded sherds of incised decorated pottery, thus confirming the broad sequence of pottery styles previosly established.
(4) An area immediately outwith the broch wall on its NE circuit was opened to check the possible presence of extra-mural occupation. Around the edge of the broch wall at a relatively high level was a paved catwalk, presumed to be contemporary with the Cellular Phase. Below this was a sequence of structures, including a linear revetment aligned tangentially with the main entrance, and possibly therefore a feature of the forecourt facade of the Cellular Phase. This was backed into the filling around an earlier curvilinear structure at the W end of the cutting, defined by a double wall-face, and containing within it sherds of incised-decorated pottery. The lowest level of external occupation was represented by a curved length of walling at the E end of the cutting on an arc which would have carried it well out to the edge of the natural platform on which the broch was located. The absolute level of this structure remains considerably higher than the presumed level of the primary broch floor, but flooding prevented further excavation this season.
(5) An environmental sampling programme was carried out by M Church. There is every indication that the site is extremely rich in plant remains and related material.
Excavation at the foot of the intra-mural staircase in Gallery 5, leading to the entrance from that Gallery to the interior, revealed an arc of edge-set stone in the constructional style of the Cellular Phase, presumably preceeding. The effect would appear to block access to the inner section of Gallery 5, and to the broch interior, from the intra-mural staircase. The purpose and period of this feature is at present unclear. Investigation within intra-mural Gallery 6 showed that the end of the Gallery was blocked in construction for half its width only, and that access to intra-mural Cell 7 was therefore from Gallery 6 rather than from the interior of the broch, as previosly supposed.
What is significant about the 1995 season is that excavations crossed the threshold of waterlogged preservation, yeilding both structural and artefactural timbers in a good state of preservation. Subject to the ability to drain the site to a workable level, there is therefore every prospect of recovering from the Broch and Roundhouse occupation structural timbers which could provide unique information regarding the internal fittings and furnishings of these buildings, issues which have hitherto been subject to considerable controversy. Equally, the material assemblages of these phases of occupation may be expected to include organic material which is seldom preserved in the archaeological record.
Sponsor: Department of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.
D W Harding, S Gilmour and J Henderson 1995.

This broch tower with later cellular structures was occupied from the later centuries BC at the latest, until the eighth or early ninth century AD (Harding and Armit 1990). It is situated on a former islet in the partially infilled Loch na Berie.
Armit 1992, 41


From the pieces of the past: an introduction to archaeology, Publisher: Univ. of Edinburgh, Dept of Archaeology, From the Pieces of the Past: an introduction to archaeology. 55
Department of Archaeology, 42nd Annual Report, , Publisher: University of Edinburgh, Dept. of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh 42nd Annual Report. 7
RCAHMCS. 1928. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Ninth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, Publisher: HMSO The RCAHMS 9th Report and Inventory: Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles. 20, No. 69
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1993. 'Loch na Berie (Uig parish): broch and post-broch settlement', Discovery and Excavation, Scotland. 110
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Information provided by Western Isles Council Sites & Monuments Record, January 2006.


Title: TRAIGH NA BERIE, LEWIS - Atlantic Round House
Record Type: Historical/ Archaeological Sites
Type: Settlement
Period: Iron Age (post-Roman) (401-800 AD)
SMR Record ID: MWE4100
Grid Ref Northing: 935160
Grid Ref Easting: 110340
Record Maintained By: CEU
Subject Id: 33037