The Old Scatness site comprises a Broch, 4m high, and an Iron Age Village, c.1400 metres sq uncovered.
Excavations were carried out at the Old Scatness site between 1995 and 2006 by local volunteers, and staff and students from the University of Bradford. A full and detailed account of the excavation and the extensive research conducted, can be found in 'Excavations at Old Scatness - Volume 1: The Pictish Village and Viking Settlement.'
The broch, with walls 5m wide, was built sometime between 400-200BC. Curiously, it had two doorways: the northern one was blocked up, but the west door had a large triangular lintel stone above it. A group of aisled roundhouses were built around the outside of the broch at a similar period - so called because they had piers to support an upper storey, but with a gap between them and the outer wall. Later, some of the gaps were filled, making the buildings stronger. These smaller structures had a similar diameter to the broch but only a single drystone wall: therefore they were never as high as the broch. One building had an outhouse attached, containing a stone oven, and another had a stone staircase for access up to the mezzanine floor, which was supported by the piers.
The Iron Age Village
The roundhouse village was eventually replaced by a Pictish one, with “wheelhouses” and cellular buildings being built into the remains of the earlier buildings. A wheelhouse has the shape of a wheel from the air: a central fire and then piers which resemble the spokes. Pictish buildings were smaller and each “cell” or room, between the piers, could have been covered in beehive-shaped roofs of stone (corbelling). There were large upright stones, orthostats, at the end of each pier. A missing orthostat from one of the wheelhouses, appears to have fallen and broken as there were pieces on the floor. One of these, lying face down, had a bear carved on it, raising the question - was the bear a special totem to the people who lived in the house?
Other Pictish buildings were created by a string of linked “cells”, or rooms. The broch was remodelled with a seven leafed clover-shaped building inserted into it, linked to the Pictish Village by a passage. Some of the Pictish Village has been removed by excavation but reconstructions have been built off to the side of the site and are used for Living History demonstrations.
The excavations uncovered traces of a longhouse, and the Vikings reused at least three of the Pictish buildings: one as a weaving shed. Soapstone weights were still in the line that they would have been in when they weighted the warp threads of a Viking upright weaving loom. The small wheelhouse was littered with fish and bird bones and had been used as a “skeo” to wind dry, and perhaps also to smoke, food to help preserve it.