A team of archaeologists has conducted a geophysical survey that has revealed what appears to be a cairn cemetery at the prehistoric ritual area around Bryn Celli Ddu on the Welsh island of Anglesey. This previously unknown manmade landscape could be connected to an even larger complex in the surrounding area in what experts have described as “really exciting stuff.”
Tomb Way Bigger than the Experts Originally Thought
Bryn Celli Ddu, a prehistoric site on the Welsh island of Anglesey that its name means “the mound in the dark grove,” apparently hides more secrets about its past than experts originally thought. Archaeologists have recently detected a prehistoric ritual landscape that may include a cairn cemetery around a 5,000-year-old tomb. Interestingly, archaeologists found out that the tomb, which had been used for thousands of years, was actually way bigger than they initially believed, while on the longest day of the year a beam of sunshine invades in through its main passage, illuminating the entire chamber as Wales Online reports.
Bryn Celli Ddu Passage Tomb is a Neolithic site that overlays an earlier henge monument. (CC BY SA 2.0)
The Legacy of Bryn Celli Ddu
Despite not being as popular as Stonehenge, undoubtedly the most iconic prehistoric monument in the UK, Bryn Celli Ddu is one of Wales’ most impressive and significant ancient historical sites. As Dhwty reports in a previous Ancient Origins article, Bryn Celli Ddu was not only a stone circle, but also operated as a ‘”passage tomb” and was a place to pay tribute to, and protect the remains of ancestors. Archaeologists have suggested that the original stone circles were set up during the Neolithic period, around 3000 BC and it is speculated that during the time of its construction, it was located in a large clearing surrounded entirely by a forest. An outer circular bank and an inner ditch encircled the area, which was originally 21 meters (69 feet) in diameter, and defined the parameters of the monument.
Stone layout of the passage burial mound with timeline. (Youtube Screenshot)
According to archaeologists, the function of Bryn Celli Ddu changed towards the end of the Neolithic, around a thousand years after it was built. Bryn Celli Ddu became a passage tomb, a type of burial monument found around the Irish coastline and some of the standing stones were deliberately destroyed, while a mound was built over the ritual enclosure. Within the mound was a polygonal stone chamber that was reached via an 8 meter (26 foot) long passageway. In 1865 Bryn Celli Ddu was first explored seriously, though it was only in 1928 that a thorough excavation was conducted at the site. At the end of the excavation in 1929, some of the structures were repositioned.
Passageway into Bryn Celli Ddu. The passage opens out to a bigger central chamber. (CC BY SA 2.0)
Researchers Use 3-D Technology and Detect Multiple Cairns
Experts used 3D digital modeling at the Neolithic passage tomb for the first time in order to learn more about its past and usage. According to the re-examination, it now seems that at Bryn Celli Ddu was a large cairn complex or cairn cemetery. As Wales Online explains, a cairn is a man-made pile of stones which is usually used to mark a burial site. Dr. Ben Edwards, from Manchester Metropolitan, that has been investigating the site recently, told Wales Online, “We hit the fields with different geophysical techniques and we found at least four burial cairns. We originally thought it was lone monument but now we know there are four. It seems a complex developed over many years. We call it a cairn cemetery. It is from the Neolithic through to early Bronze age.”
Sketch map showing multiple cairns plus rock art local to Bryn Calli Ddu (Youtube Screenshot)
Apparently, the site has seen human activity for many thousands of years and with several examples of rock art identified as well. Dr. Seren Griffiths, from the University of Central Lancashire, verified the existence of humans at the site by telling Wales Online, “We know that Bryn Celli Ddu sits in a much more complicated landscape than previously thought. Over the last three years, we have discovered 10 new rock art panels and this year the picture has developed to include further evidence for a new Bronze Age cairn along with a cluster of prehistoric pits. We have evidence for over 5,000 years’ worth of human activity in the landscape, ranging from worked flint derived from the tool-making efforts of our prehistoric ancestors to prehistoric burial cairns and pits with pottery deposited within.”
Carved stone from Bryn Celli Ddu tomb, Anglesey. National Museum of Wales (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Impressive Colors and Irish Influence
Dr. Edwards was impressed with both the rock art and the incredible blue color of it, “We don’t dig the monument itself but have investigated the landscape. We have looked at the rock art. This is an incredible blue color but also has colors like gold and fool’s gold. We found that about 10 more rock outcrops with this carved art. Unless you know what you are looking for they are hard to spot,” he told Wales Online. He also added that another interesting thing about the newly found tomb is that it doesn’t look like your typical British monument, “It is much more like what you find in Ireland and this was not coincidence. They were communicating around the Irish Sea,” he said pointing out the obvious Irish influence at the site.
Ultimately, Dr. Ffion Reynolds, from Cadw, couldn’t hide his excitement about the project’s outcome as Daily Post reports, “Since we started the project we have discovered that Bryn Celli Ddu was never in isolation, there was activity happening all around. We knew this would be a good project but it’s turning out to be very exciting.”
Top image: The 5000-year-old burial chamber at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
By Theodoros Karasavvas