In 2015 – 2016 we began with small scale projects, such as the installation of four interpretation panels at four broch sites where there had been no prior information, and the creation of a ‘broch trail’ leaflet, which encouraged both locals and tourist to explore the ‘lesser-known’ but no-less rewarding brochs of Caithness. From an original print run of 5,000, we ended up printing over 15,000 leaflets.
Later in 2016 we also organised our first archaeological event, ‘Between the Brochs’: This was a coastal archaeological survey with Scotland Coastal Heritage at Risk Project, which took place between Nybster to Skirza brochs on the east coast of Caithness. The four-day event attracted volunteers all the way from Glasgow and Edinburgh, as we investigated and recorded myriad archaeological sites, and even discovered a long-lost John Nicolson carving.
In 2017/18 we organised the Caithness Broch Festival, a series of events which sought to deliver a variety of accessible events and activities. The focal point of the festival was the ‘Home of the Brochs’ exhibition, a small exhibition in Caithness Horizons (now the North Coast Visitor Centre) which highlighted the many brochs of Caithness. The focal point of the exhibition was a 10,000 piece Lego Broch, built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum of Brick to the Past. Over 3 months, 3,000 people visited the exhibition; we received fantastic feedback for our exhibits and our attempts to tell the story of Caithness’ brochs.
During the festival we invited 800 local schoolchildren to Caithness Horizons to take part in two sets of outreach events: a Minecraft event in which we challenged children to build their own Minecraft brochs, and ‘hands-on’ events including spinning, broch-making, pollen analysis, grinding grain and post-excavation, which all made for messy and frenetic fun. Both children and teachers thoroughly enjoyed the events!
Our festival also featured an excavation near two brochs sites – Thing's Va and Bruan Broch – and a possible Bronze Age settlement, Thusater. It was this latter excavation which caught the attention of several newspapers and magazines, as we discovered a hearth, a pig’s tooth and a number of stone tools. Over 70 participants – many of whom had never ‘tried archaeology’ before – joined us for the excavations, and we hope to carry out more investigations in the future.
In 2019 we organised an art exhibition auction based on brochs: some called it a brochtion! Artists from across the world submitted pieces based on their interpretation of brochs, resulting in a fabulous array of artwork – from jewellery to wooden sculptures to felt paintings. The exhibition was well-received, and we organised a series of ‘Brochtober’ talks and children’s art events alongside the exhibition. We raised over £7,500 in the process.
This was not the first time we used art as a means to relate archaeology to our audience, and we often find ourselves using ‘hands on’ or craft-based activities in our events, whether it’s clay pot making, schools colouring-in competitions (our ‘Bearded History of Caithness’ colouring-in competition received over 700 entries!), painting pebbles or stone-carving. All of these events reflect our ethos of making archaeology and the past exciting, dynamic and interactive.