The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Broch of Ayre, Holm

There is little to be seen of this broch today, but prior to excavation it was a substantial mound rising to about 10 to 12 feet above the surface of the water of the loch at which it stands. Oval in shape, excavations began in December 1901 for a short time before commencing again in 1909.

The Broch of Ayre as it is today. (c) SFLPS

The entrance was found on the western side and three standing stones were found grouped outside it. On the left-hand side was a recess with a door-bar and set in the ground was a pivot stone upon which the door would sit. On the right wall was a guard chamber, raised about one foot above the level of the entrance passage, which was paved with flagstones. The stones covered a drain in the shape of an inverted round arch. When the stones were removed, this drain was still conveying water.

Opposite the entrance was a well with two steps leading down to it and when excavated, it still had water standing in it. It was roughly two feet square and was partially roofed with a flat slab.  Typically, the interior was divided up using flagstones as partitions.

Signs of smelting were evident. There were many signs of fire in the building and there was a mass of conglomerate, which was found among a bed of clay on the floor. This was surrounded by much broken pottery, and signs of a fierce fire on the wall next to it suggest that there was some attempt to smelt either the metal or the ore.

From the remains of charcoal found on the site, it appears that the people living here were burning green wood and there were extensive traces of peat ash, indicating that peats were also used for fuel.

Many artefacts were recovered from the site. Two iron spearheads were found, one of which was discovered in the guard chamber. An iron axe head was found just outside the broch and measured just over 4.5 inches long and was 2 inches wide.

 A number of rotary querns were found, as well as two socket stones, and other domestic artefacts included two spindle whorls and a grooved sinker, which was probably used for fishing. Four pounders and a fragment of pumice were also found. The pumice was deeply grooved with frequent use. It would have been used to polish bone.