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Aerial photo of the Scottish ghost village of Broo, in the Shetland Islands, that mysteriously came back to life. Source: UNAVCO

Archaeologists Detect Mystery Late Inhabitant of Scottish Ghost Village

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Some villages vanish and never return. Others die but are reborn. What can explain these differences? Archaeologists excavating on the Shetland Northern Atlantic subarctic archipelago, located in the Northern Isles of Scotland, have presented details about a Scottish ghost village that was abandoned after being buried in sand more than 300 years ago. Their discoveries also included a mysterious person, or people, who dug out a new home in what had become a Scottish ghost village. But why would someone or some people return to a place that had been submerged by sand and abandoned?

Shetland is an ancient archaeological treasure trove that is home to over 6,000 years of archaeology, with over 8000 sites recorded in the Sites and Monuments Record. The settlement of Broo, the name of the Scottish ghost village, with only four houses, is situated in the south west of the mainland. It was abandoned in late 1690s during the Little Ice Age (1300-1870). It has long been understood that encroaching sand deposits forced out the residents of Broo. However, newly discovered evidence has determined that someone, or some group, returned to the site where they dug out a new home in one of the otherwise abandoned sand-filled properties.

Scottish Ghost Village Surroundings Became Like A Northern Desert

The area around the Scottish ghost village of Broo is sometimes referred to as the “Arabian Desert of the North.” Archaeologists working at Broo have excavated beneath the sand to a depth of more than 6 feet (2 meters). And at this depth, they found what appears to be the main house of the Broo settlement, and three other smaller buildings. Dr Gerry Bigelow of the Shetland Islands Climate and Settlement Project working with the Archaeology Institute of the University of Highlands and Islands told The Scotsman that he and his team had to dig through two meters of sand to get to the original levels of the township and that it “really is very dramatic when you see what is there.”

The remains of one of the dwellings unearthed in the Scottish ghost village of Broo. (UNAVCO)

The remains of one of the dwellings unearthed in the Scottish ghost village of Broo. (UNAVCO)

According to a report in Archaeology, the Broo diggers found a wide range of artifacts at the Scottish ghost village site. These included a clay pipe, pottery fragments, animal bones, coins and, believe it or now, “elephant artifacts.” The elephant artifacts were probably owned by the wealthy Sinclair family, who were the leaders of Broo, until it was abandoned.

Why Did Someone Return To The Scottish Ghost Village?

The story of Broo tells the tale of struggle and survival on a bleak and unforgiving wind-torn island. However, after Broo became a Scottish ghost village, others may have returned to live there again. Based on the findings of the archaeologists, the person or people who returned to Broo converted a submerged outbuilding into a living space. And they built a staircase for getting over the newly formed sand dunes that surrounded the settlement, effectively breathing new life into the ghost village of Broo.

Dr Bigelow said that for this person or people, who returned to the Scottish ghost village after its original residents had fled, “life must have been pretty grim.” He said they would have had to climb out of the house onto a landscape that keeps rising, and that they did not abandon this new house until the sand “reached the eaves of the roof.”

It is currently unknown who returned to Broo, or why they chose to live like rabbits in a sandy hole, surrounded by a sand-washed arid landscape. But the evidence that someone did return to Broo after it was abandoned indicates that something about Broo “must have had value to someone.”

The sand dunes on a northern Scottish island. It was sand that "killed" the Scottish ghost village of Broo during the Little Ice Age. (Anneke / Adobe Stock)

The sand dunes on a northern Scottish island. It was sand that "killed" the Scottish ghost village of Broo during the Little Ice Age. (Anneke / Adobe Stock)

Scottish Ghost Village Was Likely “Killed” By Climate Change

Dr Bigelow is scheduled to host an online lecture on October 30, 2020 to discuss the Broo findings. In addition to discussing why the Scottish ghost village was abandoned, he will also try to explain how sand also buried the nearby Quendale community, located about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) inland from the sea. The findings point to effects off climate change, especially during the “Little Ice Age of 1645 to 1715,” when Scotland was 2.7-3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius) cooler than it is today.

According to a paper on the “Little Ice Age of 1645 to 1715” was caused by changes in ocean currents. In fact, the warm water Gulf Stream almost vanished during the so-called Little Ice Age. Dr Gerry Bigelow thinks that humans adapted to these changing landscapes during the Little Ice Age in such a way “that made them vulnerable to storms.” He suggests the islanders may have been growing oats in sand, or perhaps “rabbits destroyed the protective dune system.” This is an interesting story and in the future archaeologists hope to learn more from the Scottish ghost village that miraculously came back to life!

Top image: Aerial photo of the Scottish ghost village of Broo, in the Shetland Islands, that mysteriously came back to life. Source: UNAVCO

By Ashley Cowie



Hello Ashley,

This is an intriguing article the circumstances surrounding this Scottish Ghost Village and how the people of that same Village eventually returned reminded me of this scene in a book.

I had to read in 7th Grade Alex Haley's Root's.

(For the record some African Americans including myself try not to read the book or watched. The series whenever it came on T.V. painful subject but come 7th Grade, I had to read The Book; I'm fine now with both Root's and Queen.

So the scene un-folds in the book Haley's Great-grandfather 7 Times from Haley & Great-Great grandfather 8 Times from Haley, go on a trip together too visit a Village that was started by Haley's Great-Uncles.

Headed to their destination they stop for the night at a Village where a majority of the people's residence had sadly died because of illness, not too mention the routine Village being invaded by the White Slaver's.

Despite these many hurdles experienced on the villager's when Haley's Great-great grandfather 8 Times removed from Alex Haley.

Offered too take the Villagers who clearly had seen better time's to the New Village they were headed for began by his two older brother's.

The elders insisted and a few of the residence as well refused to leave their Homes because the Water in the Well was the sweetest Water ever tasted and everything else about their Village was beautiful (I also felt they didn't want to go because that Village was all they knew generations had lived in that Village.)

Likewise, what happened in that scene in Root's with the Villagers I think since the people of the Scottish Ghost Village might not have anywhere else to go.

Or, it's possible generations had lived previous in the Ghost Village before and yes what happened was scary but it seems despite what was happening involving both the weather and other elements affecting them that was still their Homes so why go?

If it was a quite cold period, surely that would have impacted the rabbit population too.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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