Clues to catastrophe at Clachtoll Broch

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Clachtoll Broch, in Assynt, was abandoned following an enigmatic Iron Age destruction event. (Image: AOC Archaeology Groups; Text: Gregory Morton)

A community project at Clachtoll Broch, in north-west Scotland, is piecing together the story of a catastrophic event that saw the 2,000-year-old stone tower’s entrance sealed off during the Iron Age.

Brochs are unique to Scotland, but this example – which may have once stood 14m high – is particularly special, the project team reports, thanks to the apparently untouched interior preserved by the destruction.

Historic Assynt and AOC Archaeology Group are now working to unpick this puzzle and learn more about the people who inhabited the broch before it was abandoned in c.150 BC-AD 50. ‘It is very unusual to find intact Iron Age occupation layers sealed by a destruction event,’ said lead archaeologist Graeme Cavers, of AOC Archaeology Group. ‘It seems that people in Clachtoll left in a hurry, meaning that we have something close to a snapshot of daily life in the middle Iron Age.’

As the team carefully remove rubble from the broch interior, they have uncovered a wealth of Iron Age finds from charred rush matting, stone lamps, and a hearth, to spindle whorls and quern stones. It is hoped that detailed analysis of these domestic objects, including the use of X-ray on pieces of corroded iron, should paint a fuller picture of the broch community’s inhabitants.

Modern inhabitants of the Assynt area also played a key part in the project: as well as participating in the excavation and attending workshops, volunteers have also used prehistoric corbelling techniques to build an otter holt on the site for local wildlife.

Excavation of the broch has now concluded, but consolidation work will continue in 2018, with final interpretation and presentation finishing in 2019. The investigation is being carried out as part of Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape, which is supported by the HLF. For more information on the project, see

This article was published in CA 332

Text by Gregory Morton

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