Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ON BROCHS – THE ENIGMA OF MEANING: FORM, FUNCTION & PURPOSE


Brochs are a true enigma: everyone seems to have a theory on them, a different one. There is no diversity or variation in certainty, only beliefs; everyone thinks they have the definitive answer: there is very little consensus. Ian Armit's book Towers in the North, looks broadly at the brochs of Scotland, (the sub-title of the book), touching on their beginnings and endings, and the various opinions and theories that seek to explain them. The study encompasses a bit of everything, covering a little of most of the issues involved without itself taking a strong position on anything. The book reads somewhat like an extended entry in an encyclopedia, bland and generally informative in a strangely distracted, uninvolved but organized manner. No commitment is made to any concept. The reader is left bathed in opinions and ideas, somewhat baffled but informed on the various concepts and possibilities.





Typical roundhouse


The research suggests that roundhouses, said to be the precursors of the broch form, and the brochs themselves, might have been built by communities to mark the ownership of arable land, an idea that challenges the notion of the defensive nature of the castle-like vision of the role of these structures that their dominance and scale suggests. Such community ownership might suppose a social use for these buildings. Armit raises this issue dispassionately, perhaps dismissively, and goes on to discuss the buildings with more apparent certainty as status markers for the superior family dominating the settlement, a position that defines the roundhouse/broch as a proud, private dwelling identifying power and prestige: dominance rather than defiance. He notes specific burials and unusual wells in some brochs that, he comments, might hold religious meaning, but he never suggests that the broch/ roundhouse could have had such a spiritual purpose, even though it would appear to be one that would knit nicely with the concept of community enterprise and functions. Just how this religious role could have been intertwined with ordinary private, residential life only extends the enigma; complicates it. Theories need to be challenged and tested if they are to hold their stamina: they need coherence. The general study of the brochs seems to muddy matters rather than begin this process of clarification, and subsequent confirmation or rejection. Is this the beginning of the problem of the brochs: everyone is both right and wrong depending on an individual’s perception, as there are few other measures, just many egos?


Where does the inter-mural stair go?

One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance. . . .
It takes special provoking . . . to get the absence of information to reveal itself to us. (p.31)


Mousa broch - note the 'fair face' of the external surface:
the rough work at the top is the restoration work carried out in 1861


Broch of Clickimin, Lerwick, Shetland

The general concepts of archaeology appear to drive defined opinions: burials must be sacred; gestures, in form, dress or decoration, have to be spiritually symbolic; straight paths must be processional; large must be for prestige, to impress, to intimidate; power means control; solid and huge means defensive; guessed alignments are always meaningful: why? That so little seems to be known about iron-age society makes all of these assumptions that get layered into broch interpretations, mere blind guesses, simple interpolations, hopeful wishes – perhaps mere archaeological clichés? Like the iron of the age itself, evidence to confirm these matters is no longer available as simple tangible facts for us to analyse and confirm; it has gone: we are left to infer circumstances using the most flimsy of ephemeral data, mere shadows of the past and figments of our present-day imaginations.


Gurness broch

An inert idea, if it were designed just right, might have a beneficial effect on a brain without having to know it was doing so! And if it did, it might prosper because it had that design. (p.5)


Gurness broch village

Armit uses an interesting different approach on p.105-6. Here he describes his vision of life in a broch village as he interprets it from the remains at Gurness (see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/09/how-architecture-shapes-and-moulds.html ) - a life suggested in the ghosted pattern of the remnant walls. Thinking like this does add ‘flesh and blood’ to a place and its experience, as a real life re-enactment might, suggesting figments, functions and feelings, but one has to be sure that this story-telling is not just some flight of fancy. Matters need tough testing. The approach is admirable in its ambition to give some sense to stones that once sheltered the living. That this ‘real life’ interpretation is not used or attempted more broadly in archaeology is puzzling. Perhaps it is seen as unscientific, too romantic; but what’s new with broch studies? Just look at the artist’s impression at Mousa that renders a complicated mesh of inferences almost as if they were photographic facts. One has to be careful not to impose one’s own preferences, but one can consider propositions arising from read realities rather than only publish vague ambitious and dreams that pretend to be reasoned and rational.



Scarecemnt on interior broch wall

Envisaging the everyday life dramas is worthwhile, if only to establish a context for further questioning; but it is the building, the construction of these places, the processes of the making, that researchers seem to manage just too schematically when it is one aspect of things that should be and can be reverse engineered to establish some facts of fashioning that would help with interpretation. One needs to hypothesise with real, practical engineered details, not schematic diagrams. Putting things in place and together involves much the same process today as ever before. There are not many ways in which rocks can be carried and precisely placed on top of one another: the laws of gravity have not changed. While there is a certain vagueness on the broad approach on how brochs were built, there is much more effort given to interpreting the specific details: what this ledge was for; the purpose of this recess; the function of the rebate? There is much debate about the six holes excavated in one broch floor. It seems to be generally accepted by broch researchers that the scarcement, a projecting rock ledge on the inside of the brochs, supported a timber floor: but still there is no complete agreement here. Brian Smith of Shetland Museum and Archives challenges this concept, as well as the idea that brochs were once roofed. He promotes the notion of the function and role of brochs - their purpose, relationship and siting – as being primarily for communication. One is left wondering if some academics and researchers like to be different just to stimulate debate and draw attention to themselves and their publications. Most of Armit’s illustrations indicate a roof over the broch and a timber floor inside. Archaeology appears to lack the rigour of pure science in many of its aspects, perhaps because it relies a lot on personal interpretations, ‘maybes’ to be assessed by others. Just how one might choose to interpret a set of holes in an excavated floor of a broch is left to one’s imagination – a best guess gauged by one’s past experience or freshly-stimulated imagination: likewise with the idea of a roof, and the use of the scarcement that is clearly a deliberate and precise arrangement/alignment of stones.


The linear scarecement can be seen at the top of the image


Artist's impression of a broch village

Considered as examples of engineering, suspension bridges and cathedrals both obey the law of gravity and are subject to the same sorts of forces and stresses. (p.29)


Mousa broch interior, looking up, showing the 'fair-faced' walls

One hypothesis for a completed broch: note sloping stones
and diagrammatic floor and roof structure (two lines)

Brian Smith gave a public lecture on the brochs in Lerwick on 21 April 2016, arguing that they were never roofed.** This seemed to be his best guess. His overview of the history of broch research was thorough and informative, but his views finally relied on his own interpretations – his analysis of his guesses, perhaps his preferences that had been discussed with colleagues. This seemed to be the limit of his testing. Smith maintains the idea that the brochs were big to impress and intimidate; on the details, he argues that the scarcement was for scaffolding during construction, not for a permanent timber floor. For Smith, brochs were placed and constructed for communicating with each other. How the messages were sent and received and what they might be is never raised other than to suggest a method - perhaps fire. Why communication was necessary is another issue that is only vaguely explained, or hinted at: was it to warn of attacks? Does this mean that brochs were refuges? Given that we seem to know so little about the ordinary lives of this era, hypothesizing is an open book that is difficult to prove right or wrong. Anything appears possible. The size and scale of the brochs is apparently, according to Smith, for distant identification (what happened to the intimidation idea?): to be able to be seen, located and identified from afar. Perhaps this is all as fanciful as the ideas of Armit and others. Theories never really appear to look at things as the real world of ‘body and brain’ involvement. Smith repeatedly notes how skilfully brilliant the broch builders were, as if this could explain any gaps in his explanations – voids overcome by the unlikely possibilities of sheer genius. The broch builders were obviously not fools, so their thoughts and processes should be able to be rationally reviewed by us today. There is a consistency in being, and being in the world that does not make us all complete strangers. The human condition is far better defined and comprehended than any broch.



An artist's impression of a broch interior: a grandly, spacious home


Drystone wall building - a precise process involving alignments, frames and strings


So how were brochs built? They are drystone structures. We know how drystone walls are built, so how might something of the scale of the broch be erected? One might assume that the techniques used today might be the same as those of the iron age. Would profile frames and string lines have been used to define the alignments, shapes and sizes of the walls as they are today? The process starts with a set out and a large pile of stones. So how were brochs set out? How were the circles defined? This must not have been an ad hoc, random start somewhere with a guessed circle and with work continuing until the stones ran out. It must have been planned. One might guess that a peg in the ground and a length of string was used for the circle. This strategy would work for the walls up to a certain height, but then other ways of defining the arc or establishing the centre are needed.## Building is an ancient craft that still uses strings, chalk, squares and plum bobs. Even though these items might have adopted a different technology today, maybe lasers, the functions, intentions, strategies and processes are basically identical.





In the same way as walls are constructed around a field, it is easy to contemplate piles of rocks lying on the ground ready and available for broch walls up to a certain height. One can get a sense of the quantity of stones needed when one sees a ruin collapsing: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/lund-haunting-place-memory.html This construction process is still used today for drystone walls: a huge pile of rubble becomes transformed, orgainsed into the alignment of a perfect wall. Beyond these normal heights where one can work standing on the ground, choosing stones and placing them, one has to begin theorizing: little is clear or certain. How was the pile of rocks raised for the higher walls? Were scaffolding platforms constructed? Where? How? Smith argues that brochs did not have interior timber floors because it would be too difficult to get the timber lengths in and out through the narrow opening. He also notes the unusual and unlikely multilevel functional relationships that get illustrated in broch interiors just to graphically fill the space. Armit repeatedly notes that lengths of timber are critical for ideas on roofing and spanning generally. Brochs require significant spaces to be spanned. So what happened with the interior scaffold that, with what must be some degree of irony, Smith speculates was used? How was it installed, removed? At least there seems to be some logic in suggesting that there was a permanent internal timber structure – no removal problems for timbers that could be progressively lifted over the walls.


A broch interior sketched as a possibility -
an open broch with inner lean-to suggested by Hamilton in 1968

So what really happened? The point is that once one has some agreement on at least one matter, then this understanding can be used to establish other theories on purpose and function. Agreement is critical; without this, researchers are left in the spin of uncertainty they now endure. What if the inner structure was the scaffold, (Smith apparently agrees with this constructional concept), that stayed there (Smith apparently disagrees – why when it is difficult to get out)? What if shorter lengths of timber were lashed together to poles and props that propped shorter spans? Consider the bamboo scaffolding that is still used in China, now lashed together with plastic ties instead of bamboo strapping. The Smith position that scarcements were for scaffolds is odd. Why are there scarcements just inside? How was the scaffold removed? The Roman aqueduct at Nimes in France has projecting stones for scaffolding, but these protrusions are everywhere and anywhere one might expect support for constructional timbers and become the aesthetic itself rather than any other preference for appearance. So how were brochs constructed? Some say that there was no scaffold.


The Mousa broch stair and bridging stones in the gallery space between the walls:
note the rough internal stone faces

On the galleries and what these are for, one again has to consider the typical drystone wall around a field. Rocks are layed through the wall from layer to layer to tie the wall together - like a stretcher-header concept in English bond brickwork. Why is it difficult to envisage the skins in the higher parts of the broch as being likewise without the stone core - to save on stone, its quantity as well as its mass? Armit notes this point, but fails to follow up on any resolution. Is he playing just too safe? Does academia make one over-cautious? Is it safer to write encyclopaedic books with grand titles to get a reputation? That some of these necessary constructional voids might be seen to be useful is surely merely a plus, a bonus, if it is not considered to have an essential spatial function; but why can both possibilities not hold sense at the same time? The functional, structural form itself can be compared to a bird’s wing bone structure, hollow with cross strutting to maximize strength and minimize mass, while, in the broch, the voids are useful for a range of sundry purposes. But this still leaves the method of building unresolved. It adds very little to the debate other than including some distracting intellectual embroidery.


Typical drystone wall section - the broch wall in miniature with fines filling the voids

English bond: one stretcher course alternating with one header course

English bond in brickwork

A self-draining drystone wall

There is another matter to consider: Yorkshire wallers lay their stones so that water is drained to the outside to avoid water collecting, concentrating and undermining the integrity of the whole. How are broch walls layed? Might the stones be placed to drain away from the interior? Armit records that this is one theory. Sections through the walls of Mousa all show stones sloping out, away from the interior, so water will indeed run to the outside. Might this detail suggest an effort to keep the interior dry? Does this understanding point to a roofed space? Why bother otherwise? What might Mr. Smith say? The general principle of a cavity in brickwork is that the two brick skins are stitched together structurally with metal ties that drip and drain and do not allow water to reach the inner skin – either by pitch (slope), or the shaping for an intermediate drip. The idea is that the outside skin can be wet, saturated, while the inside skin is always kept dry. If the 'gallery' floors/stones slope outwards, they will achieve this purpose. What does this mean?



Various ties used in cavity brickwork construction


The other principle with cavity construction is to ventilate the voids so that moisture vapour is removed rather than being left to condense on the inner skin. If the voids between the skins are seen as places to store goods, or indeed live in, as some hypothesize with the brochs, then another matter comes into play beyond the damp - the avoidance of mould. Mould can be overcome in any one of three ways: by managing temperature, humidity, or air movement. Could the carefully organized, obviously deliberate inner openings of the broch be there to ventilate the cavities to make them useful, dry and mould-free? With some rigour in the research, there might also come some agreement that could help clarify other issues; but this seems extremely difficult to achieve in broch research. Is it that each researcher is working alone to enhance a reputation, to develop a specialist expertise just too competitively?


Interior openings in Mousa broch

Dun Telve broch, Glenelg

The typical gallery space (right0 and the interior voids (left)

On the actual making of the brochs: Smith, in his lecture, showed one diagram that seemed to indicate the idea that brochs were built 'overhand,’ from the inside out/outside in, with the dry stone worker standing in the gallery space working on both the inner and outer walls. This concept apparently helps answer the obvious question about the laying of the stones in the walls above ground level access. It seeks to explain away the vexed question about internal/external scaffolding: was there any? The suggestion seems to be that no scaffolding was used – well, since Smith seeks to explain the scarcements as ledges for scaffolding, the point would have to be that there was no external scaffolding. Now this ‘overhand’ gallery approach to construction might appear to be a rationally sensible concept, especially with the intramural stairs providing access in some brochs, until one discovers that some galleries eventually get too narrow for this working position to be possible - this is at the extremes of height too - and that access to stones, even if they are at the working level, (how?), becomes an extremely awkward manouvre with every rock and pebble having to be passed over the wall being layed, even without having to decide whether stones were stacked both inside and out, or just inside; or just outside? There seems much still to be agreed upon. Is the worry that agreement minimizes argument and debate, terminates it, leaving little for academics and researchers to debate?


Broch, Glenelg, Scotland

Aerial view of Mouse broch showing gallery spaces

Looking at the brochs, one notices that the faces of the walls on the outer and inner skins are 'fair' faced, smooth on the outside of the outer skin, and the inside of the inner skin; and that the interior surfaces of the walls forming the void between are rough – well, rougher. This seems to suggest that the walls have been layed with workers standing on the outside of the outer wall, and on the inside of inner wall to construct the twin broch skins, not in between them. It is difficult to ‘fair face’ a wall from the ‘other’ side. Further, it seems that all galleries do not have continuous 'floors' available for a working platform: there are only intermittent bridging stones like the ties in a cavity brick wall. How awkward might this ‘hit-and-miss’ arrangement become for a construction work platform? Why has this notion of the gallery as a construction worker’s location ever got traction? The idea that the intramural stair might be for construction purposes appears fanciful as it has very limited use on its own, providing access only to one particular point of the circle at any one time as the height of the broch increases. This analysis appears to suggest that brochs were built with an inner and an outer timber scaffold. Lengths, like today's scaffolding, do not have to be enormous as pieces could be braced and lashed together. Scarcity of timbers is not an argument either as, like today, scaffolds could be re-used. Did broch builders bring their scaffolds as well as their skilled workmen and tools? Consider the mediaeval masons and their processes.


Mousa broch: note quality of exterior 'fair-faced' walls


Looking down at interior of Mousa broch

So can one speculate that brochs did have extensive scaffolding inside and out upon which platforms for workers and stones were supported? Might some of the inner scaffold have become permanent, overcoming the need for awkward removal? Indeed, might the inner scaffold have been essential for the set out of the walls? Could a core of say six posts have been used to define a centre for string rotation, or for arcs to be located without a centre, maybe with chords? Did the scarcement carry chords for the floor (or scaffold)? Might profiles have bridged between inner and outer scaffolds to define the ‘fair’ faces, their alignments both their curved verticality and the circular horizontality, leaving the inner gallery faces for rough freehand finishing and a close, skewed, guessed alignment by the ‘overhand’ eye that cannot see precise detail?* Wallers today use profiles. One has only to look at the exterior of the brochs in bright sunlight to see the care in their making, in their alignment of the stone faces. We cannot assume that these men were geniuses who could freehand a 3D drystone structure miraculously from nothing but stones handed to them one by one, over walls at dizzying heights while working overhand when balancing on bridging stones. Life is more consistently ordinary than this romantic vision might suggest.


Mousa broch

A concept drawing for a completed broch:
getting to the upper level (how?) seems to involve a significant effort, a real inconvenience
Note the naively diagrammatical timber structure

There seems to be some agreement that brochs were constructed to a pattern; that there were broch builders who held the knowledge. Armit uses the features of construction as the defining points for what as brooch is. He has a checklist. So were there travelling masons/architects with their teams and tools and scaffolding, and know-how, who moved around to do the work as required? Such expertise might then have used locals as unskilled labourers, as Armit notes. Was it like the mediaeval mason and his workers and helpers - specialist teams go to work when materials, money, time and labour were available?


Broch of Gurness

It appears possible: but why the stairs, intramural as they are described? Some stairs start a couple of metres above the lower interior level. Mousa starts at the ground level and goes directly to the top of the walls. It is said to be one of the few with this feature. Why? There seems to be no place to pause, to access galleries or any hypothesized timber infill floors. The stairs structure a direct journey from ground to top. What happened at the top?


Gallery 'inter-mural' stairs

Mousa broch looking north

Aerial view of Mousa broch:
the detailing at the top of the broch remains a puzzling conjecture

Oddly, some researchers who propose a roof structure, appear to ignore the stair and any access/egress point, as if it wasn't there at all. More rigour is needed. Have researchers been too entranced by artists’ impressions? Mousa is the most intact of brochs – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/mousa-broch.html Just why there seems to be some idea that stairs never went up in other brochs is a puzzle, because we are not even sure about the upper detailing of the Mousa walls that have been subjected to the enthusiastic restorative ‘genius’ of amateur archaeologists. Black houses on Lewis (see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/12/the-arnol-blackhouse-place-culture.html ) have twin stone walls filled with compacted peat/earth. These walls are roofed with the timber frame sitting on the inner skin. The surrounding ledge shaped by the thickness of the wall, usually grassed, can be accessed by stepping stones built into the outer stone walls as styles are in dykes. So why might the Mousa stair not be a similar access to a roof supported on the inner wall, assuming Brian Smith's argument that there was no roof could be wrong or misguided? Might stairs be for general surveillance; for general maintenance; for removing refuse? Indeed, how was refuse removed? How was human waste taken out? Did all brochs have their well or a water supply? Every croft on Shetland did; why not the brochs? How was water stored? There are many simple, practical questions that need answers, that theories should accommodate. The ignoring of such matters only complicates possibilities. Every narrative must be taken in its wholeness, as an idea in a set of possibilities, accommodating ordinary, everyday existence – life’s simple necessities. These are the tests. The black house had a drain in the byre that took waste away outside; and part of the wall was demolished annually to clean out and replenish the store. Similarly, a wall was opened for winnowing.


The blackhouse at Arnol, Lewis:
the roof of the old Norse mill on Lewis is identical to that of the Arnol blackhouse
and very similar to the roof of the traditional Shetland croft house

Section through blackhouse

Mousa Island from Mainland: find the broch; imagine a message

One needs to ponder more on the Brian Smith argument that size was for appearance from afar, to be seen for communication, while it was also handy for intimidation/to impress - (“imagine a visiting ship turning into Mousa”); that the particular relationships and sitings were not random, but selected for visual communication between brochs. Has he seen Mousa from the mainland nearby, its closest viewpoint? The thirteen-metre high broch looks like a pin prick from the photo-opportunity location. Smith appears to anticipate this critique by suggesting that the pin prick can be located in the landscape by the dark rocks nearby at its base. His suggestion that messages might be via fire needs more consideration too: it would be like signalling with a match at a kilometre. Why have such huge structures just to signal the twin digital possibility - on or off: fire or no fire? Was there a smoke signal system like the North American Indians used, or perhaps some crude semaphore system,  that might have extended chat sessions with more meaningful messaged signals? How did the fire get up to the top of the broch? What was the size of the flame? Was it carried up the stairs? Why not use a large pile on a hill like the celebrations do today when pyres start at Saxaford on Unst and continue the length of Britain, hill to hill to celebrate a royal birthday or a change of century? Instead of going to the trouble of constructing a tall, twin-walled circular tower, why not use the elevated land for a signal? Building brochs for signage makes little sense. What does make sense is the idea that the broch was a defensive structure. Is this why there is only one access point; and why the external walls have no projecting stones or scarcements that could be used for access? Smooth walls can be used to brace scaffolds, especially ones that swell out at the base. A strutted ring frame would offer a good, solid working platform. This form of platform is still seen today used by roofers. Was the broch a place of refuge for people and their animals? What happened with food supplies, water and waste? Would a broch become its own problem when considered as a defensive retreat, trapping those inside in their own ‘safety,’ siege-like?


Sketch of an idea of a broch village

Idea for a roofed broch


Mousa Island viewed from the water to the south

If cattle were in the lower byre section of the broch, was the intramural stair used to remove this waste? Were cattle housed in the same manner as those in the black houses that were given shelter and provided some additional bodies with warmth for everyone? There are many questions that need detailed consideration. Scarcements can take floors, perhaps, but a couple of lines on a diagram, (as Armit illustrates the possibility), is far too simplistic a notion. Floors have bearers and joists, trimmers as well as floor boards and point loads: they have depth that increases with their spans and required corbels to take the substantial loads. Just what was supported, how and where? Is the scarcement really strong enough to take a floor? The old kirk at Baliasta on Unst had an upper timber floor, but it has no scarcement. just holes in the walls for the joists. These can be seen in the stonework today, as they can also be viewed in the ruins of the walls of the ancient kirk at Lunna. One can clearly read the pattern of the structure and know that it was strong enough for its purpose. A continuous, thin, rough stone ledge tells us much less, leaving more gaps for guesses. We need to work harder, more thoughtfully and with greater rigour in our theorizing: our hypotheses need to be questioned, tested more thoroughly. Being stubbornly, blindly hopeful or argumentatively academic with an answer for everything might create a good story and stimulate endless debate, but it is an approach that will fall apart only too quickly once the conjectures have been refuted - see Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations The Growth of Scientific Knowledge: see - https://www.amazon.com/Conjectures-Refutations-Scientific-Knowledge-Routledge/dp/0415285941

Typical floor construction


Baliasta kirk wall interior showing holes for floor framing

Interior of Balistia kirk

Scientists in every field have pet theories they hope to confirm, or target hypotheses they yearn to demolish, but, knowing this, they take a variety of tried-and-true steps to prevent their bias from polluting their evidence-gathering: double-blind experiments, peer review, statistical tests, and many other standard constraints of good scientific method. (p.32)


Artist's sketch of Gurness broch, Orkney


Howe broch, Stromness

There is the other point on assuming too much, too soon. Supposing that iron-age religion was simplistic or non-existent; that it could not have been deeply embodied in life and every aspect of it; that iron age society was hierarchical in a different way; that its culture was singular and differentiated rather than integrated, rich, and whole, with every part being an integral segment of a necessary totality, as in a hologram, is a real problem. It might suit guesses, but it flies in the face of experience. A completely integrated culture and society, practically and emotionally, is far more likely than any idea of trying to project some different version of our being onto broch life from today’s understanding, interpretation, experience and expectations. We need to try to see and comprehend things from their sources, their origins, as best we can.


Gurness broch


Mousa broch from nearby waters

Ananda Coomaraswamy tells us things would have been a rich whole, where symbolism was substantially vibrant in a radiant world of light and mystery; enchantment; magic. Knowing more of this will help us understand. We should always avoid placing our reading of things onto other cultures. We need to learn from them while being wary of the power of the idea: hence the importance of proving things wrong. It is just too easy to be right. Brian Smith believes he has shown us that Mousa had no roof and argues his case by refuting all questioning. Being ‘right’ is not good science. We need to delight in proving things wrong, not being excited about or proud of being able to show every idea is right.


Concept for typical Pictish broch

Broch o' Borwich, Sandwick, Orkney

Researchers tend to be either respectful, differential, diplomatic, tentative - or hostile, invasive, and contemptuous. It is just about impossible to be neutral in your approach (to religion), because many people view neutrality in itself as hostile. (p.32)


Dun Telve broch, Glenelg

Culswick broch, Aithsting, Shetland

The point of this piece is not to offer any final solution to the problem of brochs, but to highlight just how the research to date has become cluttered with a hybrid mishmash of possibilities that will never be resolved until rigour becomes the basis of analysis; when the full facts are faced with endless questions and repeated doubts. What is critical is that skills other than that those archaeological and historical need to be brought into the research. One thinks of engineering and architectural expertise. Drawing a floor as two parallel lines is naive to any architect, and meaningless for any true understanding of building. Likewise with other issues too, like the roof. Roof or no roof, the broch will comply with functional and constructional necessities as everything else does. Deconstruction of the ruins needs to be meticulous, not a matter of a new and different hypothesis that is a set of new guesses within the framework of a bespoke academic approach. It must never be assumed that we can understand the brochs from our era alone. We must know as much as we can about the society and culture that gave them birth. Drawing parallels with other eras about which we might be more familiar is fruitless; hopeless. As a basis of power, or prestige; or is it a communal core, a refuge; a communications centre; a citadel; a chapel; all three together – what is a broch? Societies of old were never like ours; rarely fragmented into unrelated parts. If there is a religious or spiritual basis for any part of the broch, then this will very likely be integrated into its purpose, not exist as a mere aside as religion does today. That a society could be coerced into building such a private residence for the chieftain seems to suggest slavery; brutality, like that seen on Shetland when the hated Stewarts built their castles at Muness and Scalloway. What were these societies?


Broch well, Channerwick, Shetland

Boat-shaped 'well' feature at Whitegait broch

Dun Carloway broch, Lewis

Midhowe broch, Orkney

Armit proposes a farming community that is something like we might expect in our recent past. Is this so? In one way he must be true. Walls divide and perform in a particular manner; paths lead and direct in one way likewise: but this lifestyle seems different to one managed by a ‘lord-like’ figure. Was a broch really a private residence; or a spiritual and safe sanctuary for all? Was it sacred place; shared space; a refuge; a signal site? If a retreat for safety, why could it not become its own entrapment; its own problem ready for the siege, or the fiery attack? The brock looks defensive; it is likely to have had a roof given the design of the walls; and likely to have had an interior structure too. As a communication site - ? What? How? Are we dreaming just too much? We need care and consideration; true scientific research, not general guessing. We need tolerant, open minds too. The final question has to be: when might we get agreement on the brochs – and on what; then what might a broch become?


Dun Carloway, Lewis - typical broch interior

Dun Carloway broch, Lewis - bridging stones in typical gallery

The strange thing is that we get a real sense of something vaguely certain growing out of all of this confusion of ideas and possibilities: are we too happy with the poetics of this romantic ‘brochish’ muddling, a circumstance that seems close to the grandly idyllic, fantasy world created by Sir Walter Scott that seems to have generated a convincing, pseudo-realistic nationalistic world with a quaint, but fanciful phantom history and physicality all of its own?#


Cross sectional concept of completed broch

Carn Liath broch, Scotland

How are ideas created by minds? It might be by miraculous inspiration, or it might be by more natural means, as ideas are spread from mind to mind, surviving translation between different languages, hitchhiking on songs and icons and statues and rituals, coming together in unlikely combinations in people's heads, where they give rise to yet further new "creations," bearing family resemblances to the ideas that inspired them but adding new features, new powers as they go. (p.6)


Broch, Glenelg, Scotland

NOTE:
All quotes interspersed throughout the text have been taken from:
Daniel C. Dennett Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Penguin London 2007

Dun Telve broch, Glenelg

Up Helly Aa, Lerwick

# Today is Up Helly Aa day in the Sheltand Islands: Tuesday 31st January 2107 – see; http://www.uphellyaa.org/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_Helly_Aa It occurs to me that the Sir Walter Scott (who named Jarlshof) world and that of the brochs is something like the Up Helly Aa experience. This festival of ‘fun, feasting and fire’ as the commentator of the parade described it, had its beginnings in drunken rioters who rolled lighted tar barrels through Lerwick in the late 1800s. The event has no roots in the Viking world, but the Guizer Jarl, (Lyall Gair for 2017), who has waited fifteen years for this role, (such is its promoted and perceived importance), and his squad spend thousands of pounds on their Viking ‘fancy dress,’ and many hours building the make-believe galley, (to be burned), and the 900 plus torches (a two-metre long, 50 x 50mm stick with three kerosene-soaked hessian bags wrapped around and nailed to one end), just to provide the spectacle.

Like everything in this annual festival, all of this fantasy is taken extremely seriously. Everything is managed by a committee that has rules and establishes a strict programme, not only for the whole day, but for the years before and after the celebration. In spite of its ad hoc beginning, Up Helly Aa is now an important Viking-based, fire celebration with the squad being given the freedom of Lerwick for twenty-four hours. The group that comprises the guizer’s family and friends are treated almost as gods for this period. Throughout the year, the squad reforms from time to time to perform ‘Viking’ roles in various cites in the world, by invitation. The men in fancy dress become ambassadors for Lerwick and the Shetland Islands. Ironically, this fiction is reinforced and perpetuated, is given credence by its own history, and has nothing to do with ‘real’ events in time.

The Shetland Islands is, according to the study of its gene pool, half Pictish and half Viking blood. There is a Viking history, but it has little to do with any rampaging, raiding and parading squads that Up Helly Aa promotes. In a similar fashion, the study of the brochs, as with the world of Sir Walter Scott, has generated a mythic identity that has sufficient sway with its loose, poetic coherence and romantic character to allow one to feel its inflections, its charms, and project on to this emotional fuzziness some semblance of a preferred reality, albeit, like the Up Helly Aa, a complete fantasy, a disguise, a make-believe that shrouds an underlying hodgepodge of research, a circumstance that highlights the power of the story: the fairy story.




Mousa broch


*
ON SCAFFOLDING
For various types of scaffolding, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scaffolding
##
ON DRAWING CIRCLES
How to draw a circle without knowing the centre:
There are numerous possibilities -

Here's another option that should be easy to implement and hopefully is exact enough. You can approximate the arc of a circle with an ellipse by adjusting the distance between the foci of the ellipse depending on how close you can get to the center. Once you've found the foci, you drive your stakes there, tie off the right length of rope across them and scribe the arc.
First, the math: Start with a circle at the origin. For a fixed y-distance from the center of the circle (written as pRpR where pp is the percentage of the Radius), I center an ellipse so that the major axis is the chord of the circle through that closest point of approach to the center of the circle, perpendicular to the y-axis. (This puts the ends of my ellipse on the circle.) I set the minor axis so that the top of the ellipse is also on the circle. That defines a unique ellipse.
In the diagram, the target circle of radius RR is blue, the constructed ellipse is green. XX is the center of my ellipse. BB is the length of the semi-major axis. AA is the semi-minor. CC is the distance to the foci. YY is the center of my desired arc.
enter image description here
(Note on choices: You could get a better fit with different methods, such as splines, or possibly by using different fixed points to construct the ellipse, but I chose this method to make the actual measurements and construction in the field as dirt-simple as I could, assuming that the errors incurred from cutting and tying string, walking around, and measuring across the lawn would out-weigh any gains I would get by complicating it.)
Now how do you implement it. The good news is, all you need to compute is CC. Everything else you can measure. I'll do this assuming a 100 foot radius circle, and then all of our units will be in feet and can be compared as a % of the radius. Everything scales, so if we're within 1 foot of the circle for a 100 foot radius, then we're within 1%, and we'll be within 2 feet on a 200 foot one, 1212 a foot on a 50 foot one, etc.
Start by driving a stake in the center of your arc (point YY on the diagram), then find the center line to the middle of your circle. Find the closest point (XX on the diagram) you can get to the center of the circle so that you are unobstructed on either side of the line (your left and right as you face the center), and write the distance to the center of the circle as a percentage of the circle's radius. So, if you're 10 feet from the center of our 100 foot circle, that's 10%10%, or p=0.10p=0.10. Now compute CC as
C=2pR2(1−p)−−−−−−−−−−√C=2pR2(1−p),
then drive a stake at a distance CC on either side of the center line (point XX); these are your ellipse foci. Tie a string around one of the foci stakes, loop it around the stake at the center of your arc (point YY), then tie the other end to the other foci stake. Pull up the center stake from your arc and use the loop to scribe the arc.
According to the numbers I ran, the accuracy starts to drop off a bit once the width of the arc that is about the same as the circle radius, that's why I drew a chord across the top of the diagram with a length of RR. It would take 6 of these arc sections to completely draw the circle. Across this arc, your % error is about 110p110p. So in our example, where p=10%p=10%, your error is about 1%1%, or within 1 foot. And everything scales pretty well, so at 20 feet out your error is less than 2%2%, or 2 feet for the 100 foot case, etc. It tapers off further out, so even out at 7070 or 80%80% you're still under 5%5% error.
Hopefully, this level of error is ok, especially given that you only need to make 3 measurements and drive 3 stakes to whip this out. (Maybe 4 stakes, adding one at XX and running a string between XXand YY, and another between the foci to ensure they are perpendicular.)
Here's another option that should be easy to implement and hopefully is exact enough. You can approximate the arc of a circle with an ellipse by adjusting the distance between the foci of the ellipse depending on how close you can get to the center. Once you've found the foci, you drive your stakes there, tie off the right length of rope across them and scribe the arc.
First, the math: Start with a circle at the origin. For a fixed y-distance from the center of the circle (written as pRpR where pp is the percentage of the Radius), I center an ellipse so that the major axis is the chord of the circle through that closest point of approach to the center of the circle, perpendicular to the y-axis. (This puts the ends of my ellipse on the circle.) I set the minor axis so that the top of the ellipse is also on the circle. That defines a unique ellipse.
In the diagram, the target circle of radius RR is blue, the constructed ellipse is green. XX is the center of my ellipse. BB is the length of the semi-major axis. AA is the semi-minor. CC is the distance to the foci. YY is the center of my desired arc.
enter image description here
(Note on choices: You could get a better fit with different methods, such as splines, or possibly by using different fixed points to construct the ellipse, but I chose this method to make the actual measurements and construction in the field as dirt-simple as I could, assuming that the errors incurred from cutting and tying string, walking around, and measuring across the lawn would out-weigh any gains I would get by complicating it.)
Now how do you implement it. The good news is, all you need to compute is CC. Everything else you can measure. I'll do this assuming a 100 foot radius circle, and then all of our units will be in feet and can be compared as a % of the radius. Everything scales, so if we're within 1 foot of the circle for a 100 foot radius, then we're within 1%, and we'll be within 2 feet on a 200 foot one, 1212 a foot on a 50 foot one, etc.
Start by driving a stake in the center of your arc (point YY on the diagram), then find the center line to the middle of your circle. Find the closest point (XX on the diagram) you can get to the center of the circle so that you are unobstructed on either side of the line (your left and right as you face the center), and write the distance to the center of the circle as a percentage of the circle's radius. So, if you're 10 feet from the center of our 100 foot circle, that's 10%10%, or p=0.10p=0.10. Now compute CC as
C=2pR2(1−p)−−−−−−−−−−√C=2pR2(1−p),
then drive a stake at a distance CC on either side of the center line (point XX); these are your ellipse foci. Tie a string around one of the foci stakes, loop it around the stake at the center of your arc (point YY), then tie the other end to the other foci stake. Pull up the center stake from your arc and use the loop to scribe the arc.
According to the numbers I ran, the accuracy starts to drop off a bit once the width of the arc that is about the same as the circle radius, that's why I drew a chord across the top of the diagram with a length of RR. It would take 6 of these arc sections to completely draw the circle. Across this arc, your % error is about 110p110p. So in our example, where p=10%p=10%, your error is about 1%1%, or within 1 foot. And everything scales pretty well, so at 20 feet out your error is less than 2%2%, or 2 feet for the 100 foot case, etc. It tapers off further out, so even out at 7070 or 80%80% you're still under 5%5% error.
Hopefully, this level of error is ok, especially given that you only need to make 3 measurements and drive 3 stakes to whip this out. (Maybe 4 stakes, adding one at XX and running a string between XXand YY, and another between the foci to ensure they are perpendicular.)

NOTE: with a hexagon pole structure in centre, each pair of poles could be focii for a set of string ellipse arcs and maximize accuracy by limiting arc lengths to the best approximation.

ON BROCH ROOFS:
See also http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue19/4/3.3.3.html for roof and history - found radial timbers in ash excavations;
also: http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue19/4/3.3.3.html
ON SCARCEMENTS:
See images for scarcement - https://www.google.com.au/search?q=scarcement&espv=2&biw=1125&bih=1067&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiKlP-IxvLRAhXDkJQKHbCmAdoQ_AUIBigB

**
The talk was printed in New Shetlander, 276, 2016: Brian Smith 'Did the broch of Mousa have a roof? and why not!'

For more on brochs, see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/02/brochs-more-ponderings-on-fragments.html 

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