Bryn Celli Ddu Chambered Cairn (3000-2000 BC)

OS Map ref: SH507702 53.2075,-4.2355
One of the best preserved ancient burial grounds is the chambered cairn at Bryncelli Ddu (hill of the dark grove). The earth mound was actually added in more recent times to indicate what it would have been like, but the original will have been much larger, extending right to the circular edge stones surrounding it.

The original prehistoric stone circle on this site is from the neolithic period which could have been as old as 4,000 BC, the later burial tomb being about five thousand years old! It was originally constructed as a henge and used for worship or other important rituals of the day. Henges are not that common in Wales, being more of an english thing like the rather well known circle in Wiltshire, 'Hengestone' or something like that. Actually the stones used for Stonehenge came from the Preseli mountains, in southern Wales.

The ancient henge here used local limestone in its construction and was surrounded by a ditch. It probably looked something like the artists impression to the left which is at the site. Just seeing the remains of this henge is a treat, to be able to physically touch a structure that was created so many thousand years ago.

The story doesn't end there though. Some time later the henge was converted into a burial tomb or 'cromlech'. This dolmen features an entrance passage and central chamber made from huge pieces of stone. Structures like this are referred to as megalithic which means 'great stone' in ancient greek. Tombs with a long entrance such as this are called passage tombs and are to be found mainly on the Atlantic side of Europe. The passage here is 27 feet (8.2m) long, the inner part roofed by two huge capstones up to 16 feet in length, the outer open part 10ft. (3m) long. Two tall standing stones mark the intersection between them and were originally topped by a large lintel.

The burial chamber is not round but forms a polygon due to the fact that it's sides are formed by huge stones and is between 7 and 10 feet across with a smooth circular standing stone inside. The current placement of this stone I find very dubious as it is simply where it led flat when visited in 1802 by the Rev. John Skinner, following unfortunately inevitable plundering. His sketch[1] showing the pillar being central to the chamber I find more credible. The purpose of this stone, as it is not structural, is the subject of much debate but I think it is a phallic symbol, just as I think the design of the tomb itself represents the earth goddess's womb.

As with many neolithic constructs, astronomy plays a part in the design. Who can say how many seasonal events may be highlighted somehow in the design, but Steve Burrow, curator of neolithic archaeology at Amgueddfa Cymru, witnessed in 2006[2] that on midsummers day the rising sun shines through the passageway and lights up a stone to the rear of the chamber.

The stone to the right is a replica of a stone found laying flat over a pit where remains were found including a bone from the human ear, and could have been a centre stone for the original henge monument. The original stone, pictured here courtesy of Wolfgang Sauber, is in the Welsh Museum. It has lines etched into it with a an artistic style that is only found in one other place in Wales, 11 miles (18 km) to the east of here at Barclodiad y Gawres. These styles of engraving are more common and abundant in Irish passage graves like the internationally famous New Grange which have been classed as the 'Boyne type'[3] after the local river there. There are also similar designs in other european megalithic tombs. A much fuller discussion of this can be found in Piggot (1954, 193-222)[4].

This may all seem ancient enough, but postholes outside the tomb have been dated to over 6,000 years ago!

There is a large rocky mound to the north west at a bearing of aboout 10 o'clock which I would have investigated further had it not been on private land. Curiously there is a tall standing stone further up a hill in that direction at exactly the same bearing, so much so that, if one stands directly in front of this stone, the mound of Bryn Celli Ddu is completely obscured from view.

I have blown up the pictures I took to show this, in front of the stone left and then to the right from a picture I took standing a metre or two away from the stone where it is easy to see the burial mound. From Bryn Celli Ddu only the top of this standing stone can be seen from certain parts of the site.

After crossing Stephenson's Britania bridge on the A55 turn first left onto the A5 towards Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Just after passing the Marquess of Anglesey column turn left onto the A4080 Newborough road. Follow this road for 2.2 miles then turn right at the crossroads after Plas Newydd signposted Bryncelli Ddu. After about half a mile park on the left of the road and follow the signs for the cairn, using the asphalted CADW footpath which involves climbing over steps from the road.

(click on thumbnails to view the larger picture and enter film strip viewer) or see my Bryn Celli Ddu slideshow

References / Further Reading
[1] Archaeologia Cambrensis Tour in Anglesea Parochialia 1908-11 (pp 24)
[2] Sensational new discoveries at Bryn Celli Ddu
[3] Powell, T. G. E.. The Passage Graves of Ireland (1938)
[4] Piggot, Stuart. The Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles (1954)
Bryn Celli Ddu - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
GeoHack - Bryn Celli Ddu - maps, photos, wiki and much more

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