Over the last four years, our project in the landscape surrounding the Neolithic passage tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey, has revealed a rich landscape of prehistoric ritual monuments. New evidence has demonstrated for the first time, the incredible scale of ritual activity in this landscape. Radiocarbon dates from new excavations on a Bronze Age burial cairn and a circle of pits, as well as recent results from the passage tomb, demonstrate that people were building monuments in this landscape for well over 1000 years.
The project is led by the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, Cadw, University of Central Lancashire and Manchester Met University, along with members of the local community and archaeology students.
As part of the post-excavation process we have produced new radiocarbon dates from a series of Neolithic ritual pits, and a newly excavated late Neolithic/Bronze Age burial cairn along a ridge behind Bryn Celli Ddu. These radiocarbon dates demonstrate that after the construction of the iconic Bryn Celli Ddu passage tomb, a pit circle was dug and stone tools and Grooved ware pottery were ceremonially deposited as part of a Neolithic ritual.
The new results also show that there was activity at a huge burial mound to the south of Bryn Celli Ddu, some 500 years later than the pit circle. The effort put into building this burial cairn must have been immense, as some of the stones used in its construction would have weighed over one tonne. The activity at the burial cairn shows the continuing importance of this landscape to prehistoric people over 1000 years after the first monument was constructed here.
Bryn Celli Ddu, or the ‘Mound in the Dark Grove’, is a Late Neolithic passage tomb dating to around 5,000 years ago, located in north west Wales, on the island of Anglesey. It has a special feature, which means that on the ‘Summer Solstice’ – the longest day of the year, a beam of light is cast down the passage, lighting up the chamber. This moment is a very unique occasion, which links Anglesey and Wales with Ireland’s Neolithic heritage.
This fabulous prehistoric landscape demonstrates the importance of this place over 1000 years. The duration of activity here is reminiscence of other important monuments with similar evidence for long term such as Stonehenge. We are only just beginning to explore the stories associated with this landscape, and its connections through the rock art and Grooved ware pottery with important sites in Ireland such as Newgrange and Scotland.
During this year’s excavation, we undertook an extensive geophysical survey across the rest of the Bryn Celli Ddu landscape. The geophysical survey has suggested that there are other prehistoric monuments being located in the Bryn Celli Ddu landscape waiting to be discovered. This type of work is crucial to understanding the landscape, because it gives us a picture of what is tantalisingly beneath the soil. It is only through this developed survey that we are starting to reveal a ceremonial landscape with a complex of cairns, burial chambers and other prehistoric monuments.
We’ll be back next year to discover more about about this rich, and incredible landscape.
Seren, Ffion, Ben, Adam