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Bryn Celli Ddu Passage Tomb, Anglesey: Alignment, Construction, Date, and Ritual

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Bryn Celli Ddu Passage Tomb, Anglesey: Alignment, Construction, Date, and Ritual

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Bryn Celli Ddu is one of only two developed passage tombs in Wales, and has occupied a pivotal place in narratives of this region since the publication of excavations in the 1920s by W.J. Hemp. The construction sequence at the site has been at the centre of debate on several occasions with previous models raising important issues about the sequence of major monument types (notably the henge and the passage tomb) and the inter-regional links of the tomb's builders. This paper presents a new interpretation of the site's construction history, drawing on several sources, including: the recent demonstration that the tomb is aligned on the midsummer sunrise; Hemp's unpublished archive; and the results of a radiocarbon dating programme. The result is a two phase model which shows the tomb to have been built between 3074 and 2956 cal bc, and which sheds fresh light on the ritual practices of the community which built it.
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PROCEEDINGS OF THE
PREHISTORIC
SOCIETY
VOLUME 76
EDITED BY
JULIE GARDINER, B.A., Ph.D., F.S.A., M.I.F.A.
Wessex Archaeology
Salisbury
EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE
M. ALDHOUSE-GREEN
N. ASHTON
G. BARKER
T. CHAMPION
G. COONEY
J. CHAPMAN
A. DAVID
C. FRENCH
C. GOSDEN
F. HEALY
A. SAVILLE
A. SHERIDAN
G. J. WAINWRIGHT
THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY
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Bryn Celli Ddu, on Anglesey, is one of the most
frequently discussed of the Welsh tombs thanks to
excavations in the 1920s which revealed a complexity
to the site’s construction history which is rarely
apparent at other megalithic sites in this region. The
tomb belongs to the developed passage tomb tradition,
a type common in Ireland but rare in Britain, with
only two certain examples being known in Wales. As
such it plays a key role in demonstrating cultural links
between the two islands at the end of the 4th
millennium BC (Lynch et al. 2000, 73). Furthermore,
Bryn Celli Ddu is one of the most visually impressive
Neolithic monuments in Wales and forms a key part of
the tourist experience on Anglesey (Yates & Longley
2001, 31–3). All of these factors make it important
that the site’s development and history are well
understood.
The tomb is situated on a low spur of land in the
valley of the Afon Braint which flows past the site 150
m to the east as a small stream (Fig. 1). The
surrounding land is low rolling hills, with the
mountains of Snowdonia visible, c. 15 km to the
south-east. The most striking local landmark, and one
which may well have influenced the tomb builders in
the selection of their site, is an outcrop of rock 140 m
away to the north-west which is marked by up to 28
cupmarks arranged in groups (Nash et al. 2005, 12).
Bryn Celli Wen, an anomalous enclosure excavated by
Julian Thomas and Mark Edmonds in 1990–1993 and
awaiting publication (see Thomas 2001) lies 350 m
north-east of the tomb. Peterborough pottery
discovered at this site hints at a date broadly
comparable with, or slightly earlier, than the
construction of Bryn Celli Ddu, making it another
possible factor influencing the positioning of the tomb.
The tomb survives today as a chamber and passage
covered by a low mound and bounded by a 25 m
diameter ditch in which sits an outer kerb, although it
should be noted that much of the mound visible today
is the result of attempts to stabilise the site and make
it accessible for visitors (Fig. 2).
EARLY HISTORY
Bryn Celli Ddu is first mentioned in Henry Rowland’s
Mona Antiqua of 1723, which includes an illustration
of the tomb as a cairn with a capstone protruding
from the top. A large amount of mound material was
249
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 76, 2010, pp. 249–270
Bryn Celli Ddu Passage Tomb, Anglesey: Alignment,
Construction, Date, and Ritual
By STEVE BURROW1
Bryn Celli Ddu is one of only two developed passage tombs in Wales, and has occupied a pivotal place in
narratives of this region since the publication of excavations in the 1920s by W.J. Hemp. The construction
sequence at the site has been at the centre of debate on several occasions with previous models raising
important issues about the sequence of major monument types (notably the henge and the passage tomb) and
the inter-regional links of the tomb’s builders. This paper presents a new interpretation of the site’s construction
history, drawing on several sources, including: the recent demonstration that the tomb is aligned on the
midsummer sunrise; Hemp’s unpublished archive; and the results of a radiocarbon dating programme. The
result is a two phase model which shows the tomb to have been built between 3074 and 2956 cal BC, and which
sheds fresh light on the ritual practices of the community which built it.
1Curator of Neolithic Archaeology, Amgueddfa Cymru –
National Museum Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff. CF10 3NP.
steve.burrow@museumwales.ac.uk
Received: January 2009. Accepted: September 2009
removed after this date and, by 1847, it is illustrated
as a largely denuded chamber and passageway (Anon
1847, 3). Calls for its preservation at this time led to
the planting of trees around it and the erection of an
enclosing fence.
The chamber and passageway were dug in 1865 by
François du Bois Lukis of Guernsey (Barnwell 1869,
142; Hemp 1930, 181), whose own notes make clear
his belief that he had undertaken the work too
carelessly. But most of our current knowledge about
the site is the result of work by W.J. Hemp, then the
Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales and, from
1928, Secretary to the Royal Commission on
Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales and
Monmouthshire (Jenkins 2001, 92). Hemp began a
programme of conservation and excavation work at
Bryn Celli Ddu in 1925, following the gifting of the
site into state care in 1923.
Hemp’s publication of the site, just a year after the
conclusion of his fieldwork, is commendable (Hemp
1930), as is the detail of his recording which allows
nine stratigraphic and architecturally separate units to
be identified at the site (Fig. 2). These can be
summarised as:
• an encircling ditch
• an arc of stones1
• a central pit
a decorated orthostat, known since its excavation
as ‘the pattern stone’
a chamber and inner passage, consisting of
substantial orthostats topped by capstones
• an outer passage consisting of drystone walling,
three more orthostats which once supported a
further capstone, and a series of low orthostats
an outer kerb consisting of orthostats and
drystone walling
• an inner kerb consisting of smaller stones
a series of post-holes and an ox burial beyond the
tomb entrance.
In addition, Hemp identified a ‘purple clay floor’
beneath the mound of the tomb and within the ditch,
which he believed was a deliberate placed layer,
THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY
250
Fig. 1.
Location of Bryn Celli Ddu. Inset map indicates sites with evidence of passage tomb-related activity.
Main map shows Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites in the vicinity of Bryn Celli Ddu
possibly brought to the site from the clay shores of the
Menai Straits (Hemp 1930, 204 & 206). The nature
of this soil layer has been the subject of much debate,
as will be seen below.
In Hemp’s view the site had been constructed to a
single design with all of the structural elements
working towards this end, but the level of detail in his
report has allowed others to revisit his work and
present alternative conclusions. Three of these
authors, Claire O’Kelly, George Eogan, and Richard
Bradley, have suggested that the site was built in two
separate phases (Fig. 3), while Frances Lynch’s work
has focused on the significance of deposits within the
passageway (Lynch 1973). O’Kelly, the first to
reinterpret Bryn Celli Ddu, argued that the site began
as a henge (the encircling ditch) enclosing a stone
circle (the stone arc), which was later subsumed
beneath a passage tomb, while Eogan and Bradley
S. Burrow.BRYN CELLI DDU PASSAGE TOMB,ANGLESEY:ALIGNMENT,CONSTRUCTION,DATE,RITUAL
251
Fig. 2.
Site plan showing components of site identified during W.J. Hemp’s excavations (redrawn from Hemp 1930, pl. lvi)
THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY
252
Fig. 3.
Construction phases suggested by earlier researchers. a. O’Kelly’s first phase (1969); b. Eogan’s first phase (1983);
c. Bradley’s first phase (1998); d. final phase agreed by all researchers
argued that the site began as a smaller tomb which
was subsequently enlarged. Eogan’s experience at
Newgrange K (Eogan 1983) led him to argue that the
mound of this first tomb was bounded by an
orthostatic kerb (the stone arc), all set within the
encircling ditch; Bradley drew on his work at the
Clava Cairns (Bradley 1998) to suggest that the earlier
tomb was small enough to leave the stone arc as a
free-standing circle.
All of these authors have taken Hemp’s report as
their starting point, with their interpretative models
being based on comparison with other Neolithic sites.
This paper presents a further model for the
construction of Bryn Celli Ddu based on Hemp’s work
and additional evidence: notably, Hemp’s unpublished
archive; the demonstration that the tomb is aligned on
the midsummer sunrise; and the results of a
radiocarbon dating programme based on material
from Hemp’s excavations.
THE ALIGNMENT OF BRYN CELLI DDU
The hypothesis that Bryn Celli Ddu is aligned on the
midsummer sunrise was first proposed over a century
ago by the astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer. His
practical study of the alignment of British prehistoric
monuments had begun in the spring of 1901 when he
assessed the alignment of Stonehenge with a view to
determining the monument’s age (Lockyer 1906). This
work encouraged him to study other sites across
Britain and, to this end, he visited the Swansea
Eisteddfod in 1907, where he called for the
establishment of a Society for the Astronomical Study
of Ancient Stone Monuments in Wales. Two men in
particular headed his call, Lord Boston and E. Neil
Baynes, both of whom were involved in fieldwork in
north Wales.
A few months later, Boston and Baynes undertook a
survey of the Anglesey tombs, with Lockyer and his
wife joining them in the spring of 1908 to provide
independent verification of their results. Based on their
measurements down the passageway at Bryn Celli
Ddu, Boston and Baynes believed that the tomb was
aligned within 2° of the midsummer solstice; Lockyer’s
own measurements led him to the conclusion that the
tomb was accurately aligned. This result was
published in the 2nd edition of Lockyer’s Stonehenge
and other British stone monuments (1909).
Lockyer was a well-established astronomer with a
reputation for the quality of his observations, but his
foray into archaeology was not a success. There is
little evidence that his findings were ever accepted by
Wales’s archaeologists. This may have been because he
diluted his most convincing discoveries, such as at
Bryn Celli Ddu, within a sea of more ambiguous
alignments based on tomb chambers which did not,
themselves, have clear orientations. It is equally
possible that his discoveries were met with a general
lack of belief among the contemporary archaeological
community that prehistoric people would have
concerned themselves with astronomy. By 1914, Sir
Henry Howarth, Vice President of the Cambrian
Archaeological Association felt confident enough to
say that ‘he did not know anybody living except one
great man who accepted [Lockyer’s theories] and that
great man was Sir Norman Lockyer!’. A few years
later, Lockyer’s work ceased to be referenced by
archaeologists in Wales. Indeed Hemp makes no
reference to it in his excavation report for Bryn Celli
Ddu (Hemp 1930), and this rejection should probably
be read in the context of developing antagonism
between archaeologists and ley-hunters with whose
linear studies Lockyer’s alignment work may easily
have been compounded (cf. Stout 2008, chap. 13).
In the summer of 2004, the author began a series of
observations intended to test Lockyer’s observations.
Bad weather prevented verification in the first year
but, in 2005, the alignment of Bryn Celli Ddu on the
midsummer solstice was successfully observed and
documented on Mini DV tape and 35 mm slide film
(Fig. 4). Although the presumed solar alignment of
Bryn Celli Ddu has been discussed by Burl (2000,
189), this is believed to be the first time that the event
has been documented in film and the evidence
published by an archaeologist (Pitts 2006, 6). The
effect of the solar alignment consists of a beam of light
from the rising sun penetrating the passage and
illuminating the rear wall of the chamber with a well-
defined yellow box; this narrows to a thin strip as the
sun climbs eastwards over the course of about 30
minutes. The stone which is targeted by the sun is not
significantly different from any other in the chamber,
although it might be noted that it does contain chunks
of quartz which, if the stone were clean, might reflect
the light. These results vindicate Lockyer’s conclusions
at Bryn Celli Ddu and it is hoped will serve to
encourage a more detailed investigation of his own
publication and that of E. Neil Baynes (Lockyer 1909;
Baynes 19122).
S. Burrow.BRYN CELLI DDU PASSAGE TOMB,ANGLESEY:ALIGNMENT,CONSTRUCTION,DATE,RITUAL
253
RADIOCARBON DATING PROGRAMME
The documenting of Bryn Celli Ddu’s alignment
provided the inspiration for a radiocarbon dating
programme drawing on Hemp’s excavation archive,
which is held at Amgueddfa Cymru – National
Museum Wales. This archive consists of
correspondence, unpublished site plans and sections,
and the finds from the site, including bone and
charcoal. Fortunately Hemp recorded the provenance
of each of these finds and it is possible to match them
to their published contexts. This detail encouraged
Stephen Aldhouse-Green to consider dating the site
(note in accession file 26.193), but it was only with
the development of techniques for dating cremated
bone that a full radiocarbon dating project became
feasible.
As a first step, the charcoal from stratigraphically
valuable contexts, and all of the bone from the site
were re-analysed by Sheila Boardman (charcoal) and
Jacqueline McKinley (human bone). Boardman’s
analysis largely supported the conclusions made by A.
Hyde, the original analyst (Hyde in Hemp 1930, 214;
Table 1), but re-analysis of the human bone from the
site threw up more differences.
McKinley (2006) reports the human bone
assemblage as comprising 30 fragments of unburnt
and 611.6 g of cremated bone (Table 2), the latter
being just a fraction of the amount that a single
cremation would be expected to yield (McKinley
1989). Since only 0.25 inch and 0.5 inch sieves (c.
6.25 mm and 12.5 mm) were used at the site (Hemp
1930, 187), it is likely that many smaller fragments
will also have been missed. Furthermore, early
accounts of Bryn Celli Ddu suggest that a great
deal more bone has been lost from antiquarian
investigations of the chamber and passage (ibid., 180).
But it seems less likely that material sealed below
mound material would have suffered the same
disturbance. This ‘earlier’ material comprises two
token deposits from below stones I and K in the stone
arc, a 108.8 g deposit from beside stone J, and a token
quantity from the central pit. Unlike the mix of burnt
and unburnt bones found in the passage contexts, all
of this material had been cremated.
The unburnt bone surviving from the passage may
all have been derived from a single adult c. 21–40
years old, and the burnt bone from two adults (one
>30 years old, one >18 years old) although, for
reasons outlined above, this is likely to under-estimate
THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY
254
Fig. 4.
Sun rise at Bryn Celli Ddu, 23 June 2005. A copse
obscures the line of the horizon at Bryn Celli Ddu but the
trees are not planted so thickly as to prevent the alignment
being recognised. On 21 June 2006 the alignment was
witnessed again from the top of the mound, over 3 m
above the floor of the chamber; this observation was
sufficient to demonstrate that there is no significant time
lag between the sun rising above the horizon and its
becoming visible from within the chamber. Calculations by
Frank Prendergast (pers. comm.) suggest that at 3000 cal
BC, the sun would have risen two solar widths to the north
(left in this picture), this change in the alignment does not
alter the conclusions presented in this paper. A video of the
2005 alignment can be seen at the National Museum
Cardiff
the actual size of the tomb’s population. Fragments of
burnt animal bone, and possibly antler, mixed with
these remains may be the remains of offerings. A
further deposit of 57.2 g of cremated bone was found
behind a stone in the tomb’s outer kerb.
The radiocarbon dating programme was based on
three charcoal and seven cremated bone samples
drawn from the material described above, focusing on
samples derived from short-life materials found in
stratigraphically important contexts and with the
added proviso that samples were only taken from
unidentifiable human bone fragments, or from bones
which could be sampled without completely
destroying the specimen. This latter proviso was
observed in order to preserve the integrity of the
collection for future researchers. The results of this
dating programme are summarised in Tables 1 and 2
and Figure 5, and are incorporated into the discussion
which follows.
THE MESOLITHIC AT BRYN CELLI DDU
The earliest dates from Bryn Celli Ddu come from
post-holes in front of the tomb entrance (see Figs 2 &
5; Table 1). Hemp (1930, 193) noted that this
entrance area was the most complex part of the site to
excavate and he allowed for the possibility that he
might have misinterpreted the evidence. His
uncertainty is clear from discrepancies between the
details of plans for this area in the site archive. On
some Hemp illustrates five post-holes in a line (as in
his published report), but at one point he believed
there were eight post-holes forming a three-sided
structure. Mesolithic dates were obtained from two of
the post-holes (5990–5730 cal BC; UB-6822 and 6823;
Table 1), pre-dating the tomb by some 3000 years.
There are no parallels for this discovery within
Wales3.
A smaller pit to the north-east of this line of posts
contained an ox burial, the skull and long bones of
S. Burrow.BRYN CELLI DDU PASSAGE TOMB,ANGLESEY:ALIGNMENT,CONSTRUCTION,DATE,RITUAL
255
TABLE 1: CHARCOAL SAMPLES RETAINED FROM HEMP’S EXCAVATIONS AND
RADIOCARBON DATES OBTAINED THEREFROM
Context [acc. no.] Quantification Radiocarbon date
Contexts outside tomb structure
1 of 5 post-holes in front of Corylus timber: 144 frags, 7.81 g
entrance (Hemp 1930, 194) Corylus roundwood: 3 frag, 0.17 g
[36.165/2] Quercus: 1 frag., 0.02 g
1st post-hole in line beyond Pinus timber: 83 frags (6 partly vitrified), 1.77 g UB-6822: 6982±48 BP; -25.0 δ13C
tomb entrance (Hemp 1930, 194) Indet. charcoal (vitrified): 7 frags, 0.13g 5990–5730 cal BC
[36.165/3]
2nd post-hole in line beyond Pinus timber: 61 frags, 1.04 g UB-6823: 6968±47 BP; -25.0 δ13C
tomb entrance (Hemp 1930, 194) Pinus bark: 48 frags, 0.34 g (0.06 g of bark sampled)
[36.165/4] Indet. charcoal (vitrified): 7 frags, 0.13 g 5990–5730 cal BC
Large hole in front of entrance Pinus: 1 frag., 0.05 g
[36.165/8] Quercus: 1 frag., 0.64 g
Contexts below mound of tomb
Beneath Pattern Stone Prunus spinosa: 1 frag., 0.16 g UB-6824: 4362±40 BP, -26.0 δ13C
(Hemp 1930, 197) [36.165/9] Prunus avium/padus type: 1 frag., 0.08 g. 3100–2890 cal BC
In situ burning beneath base of Pomoideae: 2 frags, 0.06 g UB-6825: 4374±40 BP, -25.0 δ13C
stone in outer kerb Indet. charcoal: 1 frag., 0.05 g 3270–2900 cal BC
(Hemp 1930, 199, pl. lv, section 1)
[36.165/10]
Identifications by Sheila Boardman. All radiocarbon dates were on single fragments of wood and calibrations were produced
using the IntCal04 dataset (Reimer et al. 2004) and Oxcal v4.1.3. Calibrations are to 2 standard deviations using the
maximum intercept method (Stuiver & Reimer 1986)
THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY
256
TABLE 2: HUMAN BONE RETAINED FROM HEMP’S EXCAVATIONS AND RADIOCARBON DATES OBTAINED THEREFROM
Context [acc. no.] Quantification Radiocarbon date
Contexts below mound of tomb
Hollow marked by upright stone, 108.8 g (adult >25 yr, ??f) UB-7113: 4384±46 BP; –24.0 δ13C
c. 0.9 m inside stone ‘J’ of stone arc 3310–2900 cal BC
(Hemp 1930, 202) [99.39H/2]
Stonehole ‘I’ in stone arc 8.4 g (adult >18 yr) UB-7116: 4573±40 BP; –21.0 δ13C
(Hemp 1930, 203) [99.39H/14] 3500–3100 cal BC
Base of central pit 2.5 g (sub-adult)
(Hemp 1930, 196) [99.39H/13]
Beneath stone ‘K’ of stone arc 0.7 g (infant)
(Hemp 1930, 203) [99.39H/8]
Contexts associated with use of tomb
Bottom layer of passage between 30.1 g (sub-adult >13 yr) UB-7115: 4360±44 BP; –32.0 δ13C
stones 13 & 15 [99.39H/12] 0.1 g burnt animal bone 3100–2890 cal BC
Passage, opposite stone 13, 37.3 g & 3 frags (adult >21
in lowest layer [99.39H/7] yr; adult >18 yr)
South half of passage opposite stone 12 25.7 g (adult >18 yr) UB-7117: 4395±40 BP; –20.0 δ13C
[99.39H/16] 3310–2900 cal BC
North half of passage opposite 11. 58.5g and 8 fragments.
[99.39H/9] (adult >30 yr; adult >18 yr)
Passage between stones 10 & 11 below, 44.0 g & 3 frags (2 adults
among & above ‘pavement stone’ [99.39H/5] >18 yr; adult >18 yr)
West end of passage between 23.3 g (adult >21 yr) UB-7114: 4409±39 BP; –24.0 δ13C
stones 10 & 11 [99.39H/11] 3330–2910 cal BC
Left side of passage stones 10 & 11 [99.39H/18] 0.3 g & 3 teeth (sub-adult
>13 yr; adult c. 21–40 yr)
Passage, opposite joint between 1 tooth (adult c. 21–40 yr)
stones 9 & 11 [99.39H/20]
South side of passage [99.39H/10] 17.2 g & 4 frags (adult
>18 yr; sub-adult >13 yr)
SW end of passage [99.39H/19] 1 tooth (adult c. 21–40 yr)
Passage [99.39H/3] 37.1 g & 2 frags (adult
>21 yr; adult >18 yr)
1.5 g burnt animal bone
Passage [99.39H/6] 77.8 g & 5 frags (adult
>30 yr; adult >18 yr)
?unburnt antler frag.
Cavity behind stone 29 of outer kerb 57.2 g (adult >30 yr) UB-7118: 4351±35 BP; –26.0 δ13C
(Hemp 1930, 200) [99.39H/17] 3090–2890 cal BC
Identifications by Jacqueline McKinley. Cremated bone given by weight, unburnt bone by number of fragments
which were sent to Manchester Museum after the
excavation but can no longer be found (Sitch pers.
comm.); the remaining bones were reburied in the
entrance area (Hemp 1930, 213). The possibility that
this ox might be prehistoric is of particular interest.
THE CASE FOR A HENGE AT BRYN CELLI DDU
The identification of the first phase of Neolithic
activity at Bryn Celli Ddu has been at the centre of
debate about the site for many years. The most widely
publicised view has been that of Claire O’Kelly (1969)
whose argument focused on the purple clay floor
which Hemp had found below the mound and in the
ditch, and which she believed was evidence for an
earlier enclosure. Her view was based on parallels
with Irish sites which led her to believe that this clay
layer was the remains of a buried soil.
Paraphrasing O’Kelly’s model, she argued that,
since the hypothetical ‘buried soil’ was found at the
‘base’ of the ditch, the ditch must have been open for
an extended period before the construction of the
S. Burrow.BRYN CELLI DDU PASSAGE TOMB,ANGLESEY:ALIGNMENT,CONSTRUCTION,DATE,RITUAL
257
Fig. 5.
Bayesian model based on Neolithic radiocarbon dates from Bryn Celli Ddu, calculated using Oxcal v.4.1.3
(Bronk Ramsey 1995; 1998; 2001; 2009)
tomb. Furthermore, in order for this pedogenesis to
have occurred, the ditch must have already eroded
and filled until a stable profile had been reached.
O’Kelly’s thesis was that Hemp had only excavated
down to a buried soil topping this ‘stabilisation layer’
and not to the base of the ditch – a view which draws
indirect support from Hemp’s own published
statements that he did not bottom two of his three
ditch sections (Hemp 1930, pl. lv).
Since the buried soil formed a layer across the
interior of the site, O’Kelly argued that this area could
not have been covered by the ditch spoil which, by
implication, must have been mounded outside of the
monument. Together, these points suggested to her
that Bryn Celli Ddu had an initial phase of life as a
henge containing a stone circle and that, when the
henge ditch had been open for sufficient time for a
buried soil to form, the monument was covered by a
passage tomb. This model has been widely endorsed
(eg, Herity 1974, 73; Holgate 1982, 159; Lynch 1991,
94), and has become embedded within Cadw’s
interpretation boards at the site. As such it has
achieved prominence as a case study for the
interaction of different Neolithic monument types –
the henge and the passage tomb – with the apparent
reversal of the expected chronology of these
monument types doubtless adding to the level of
interest in this model (cf. Burl 2000, 188–9).
But the interpretation of the ditch at Bryn Celli Ddu
as a henge is problematic. No bank survived outside
the ditch, neither did the ditch sections provide
evidence for its former presence. It could be argued
that an external bank had been built a sufficient
distance from the ditch as to preclude it eroding into
the ditch fills, but this is unproven. Conversely, the
mound material covering the passage tomb must have
come from somewhere, and the simplest assumption is
that the ditch supplied it (as acknowledged by O’Kelly
1969, 24, and discussed further below). O’Kelly’s
contention that the ditch was open for a significant
length of time prior to the construction of the tomb is
also difficult to sustain for two main reasons.
First, Hemp’s archive contains multiple drawings of
the one section that he did apparently bottom: field
drawing, rough-inked version, and the published
illustration (Hemp 1930, pl. lv.2). The field version
shows that he significantly over-cut the inner edge of
the ditch down to the base but that, as he moved from
field drawing to published illustration, he removed the
over-cut from the drawing (Fig. 6). Had there been a
deeper cut to the ditch profile, it seems certain that he
would have recognised it.
Second, there is no proof that the purple clay floor
was a buried soil. In 1989, Mike Yates located this
layer during conservation work on the site and, in
1996, Frances Lynch excavated a 2 m square area
within the interior of the monument, specifically to
examine it (Lynch n.d.). The context was identified
and studied by the soil scientist David Jenkins. Jenkins
concluded, on mineralogical grounds, that the purple
clay layer was local to the area and had not been
imported to the site, invalidating Hemp’s hypothesis
of a source in the Menai Straits. But, Jenkins’s analysis
also led him to argue that ‘[a]s to [the purple clay
layer] being a possible buried organic horizon, the
organic carbon analyses do not support such an
interpretation. The colour difference which is not
pronounced in the field and only just detectable in the
Munsell code must be ascribed to some other
pigmenting factor’.
Therefore, on current evidence, there seems no
reason to believe that the ditch had been open for a
length of time sufficient for a buried soil to form prior
to the construction of the passage tomb. On these,
and radiocarbon grounds, O’Kelly’s model of an
early ditched enclosure at Bryn Celli Ddu does not
seem sustainable4.
A NEW CONSTRUCTION MODEL
The model which I present here begins, as Hemp’s did,
with the digging of a pit at what was to become the
centre of the monument (Hemp 1930, 206). Cremated
bone had been placed at the base of this pit which may
well have then served to hold a post (see O’Kelly
1969, 27). This pit/post was used as a marker during
the laying out of the stone arc, with opposing pairs of
stones being joined by lines which cross this central
feature (Hemp 1930, 203). Small quantities of
cremated bone were placed beneath, or close to,
several of these stones, as detailed in Table 2.
Three of the stones in the arc (‘G’, ‘H’, and ‘I’) do
not have opposing partners (Fig. 7). Working from
Hemp’s plan of the site, it seems likely that ‘H’ and the
central pit were used to orientate the monument on
the solstice alignment. In addition to this central
alignment, lines following the walls of the inner
passage converge on stone ‘H’, suggesting that this
THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY
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259
Fig. 6.
Ditch section bottomed by Hemp: a. site drawing with annotations indicating the areas that were over-dug; b. inked
version still indicating over dug areas; c. published plan (Hemp 1930, pl. lv, section 2)
which does not show the over dug area
stone was also used as a guide to ensure that the
passage opening was sufficiently wide to frame the
solstice sunrise when viewed from within the chamber.
Furthermore, lines marked out from both ‘G’ and ‘I’
across the central pit are mirrored by the alignment of
two orthostats in the tomb chamber (Fig. 6)5. In
combination, this evidence suggests that the
construction of the stone arc was closely related to the
laying out of the chamber and the inner passage. The
remaining 12 stones of the arc do not have an obvious
role. Possibly they were intended either to ‘capture’
the sun within the enclosing arms of the arc, or to
begin the demarcation of the interior of the arc as a
sacred space for monument building.
The two radiocarbon dates produced from
cremated bone found in these pre-mound contexts are
presented in Figure 5 (see UB-7113 and UB-7116).
These can be viewed beside the results of short-life
charcoal dates from other pre-mound contexts (see
below), albeit with UB-7116 sitting as a statistical
outlier (individual agreement index 51.5%, a little
lower than the 60% agreement recommended by
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260
Fig. 7.
Site plan indicating the relationship of the stone arc and central pit to the orientation and arrangement of the
chamber and passage orthostats
Bronk Ramsey 2009). If UB-7116 is indeed older,
rather than being a statistical anomaly, then it
presumably represents the accidental incorporation of
residual bone or perhaps the deliberate use of curated
bone during the construction of Bryn Celli Ddu6.
The building of the inner passage and chamber was
probably undertaken at the same time as the digging
of the ditch which is the obvious source of the mound
material which would have been needed to stabilise
the shallowly-bedded orthostats. In addition, scrub
clearance and burning probably took place across the
site, since short life charcoal was found in in situ
burning at the base of the ditch and in the centre of
the monument beneath a decorated slab (sampled as
UB-6825 and UB-6824 respectively) which itself lay
flat beside the central pit and below the later mound.
This decorated slab, known since its excavation as the
‘pattern stone’ is of particular interest. It has a pecked
design of spirals and curvilinear lines running around
three of its sides (Fig. 8), with the coherency of the
design suggesting that the stone was carved while
upright, although it cannot be certain that it was
intended to be viewed this way. This suggests that it
was the knowledge that it had been carved which was
more importance to the builders than its display as an
art work in the contemporary sense. As such its
carving probably dates to the planning of the
monument, the work perhaps encouraging an
appropriate mindset for the project as a whole, and
since it was found lying flat beneath the approximate
centre of the mound, it seems reasonable to view it as
the symbolic heart of the tomb.
The size of the mound which could have been
raised from the ditch material alone is also of interest.
Bryn Celli Ddu’s ditch has a central diameter of c. 26
m and is c. 5 m across and c. 1.5 m deep. It does not
seem to have been broken by an entrance causeway,
although this is not certain. This ditch would have
been sufficient to provide between 200 m and 240 m3
of gravelly soil, enough to cover the chamber’s
capstone with a 3 m high domed mound713–14 m in
diameter, but not sufficient to have covered the tomb
to this height up to the edge of the ditch. In
consequence, it is argued that the tomb was initially
covered by a small, off-centre, mound enclosing just
the chamber and inner passage (Fig. 9a).
As well as stabilising the orthostats, the mound
would also have assisted in eliminating the light from
the interior of the monument, allowing the accuracy
of the sunrise alignment to be assessed. The open ditch
could itself have served to further demarcate the
sacred space of the tomb, a point re-inforced by the
apparent lack of entrance causeway which would
have made access to the monument physically difficult
at this stage in its construction.
The view of the horizon down the passage of this
first phase monument would have been much wider
than it appears today (Fig. 9a), with much of the left
(northern) side of the opening being unnecessary since
the sun would have appeared broadly in the middle of
the doorway and then risen to the right (south). The
design of the outer passage suggests that the
enlargement of Bryn Celli Ddu from its first phase to
the final phase tomb (Fig. 9b) was an attempt to refine
this solstice view, narrowing the entrance and passage
in order to increase its drama.
The outer passage extends the length of the passage
into the ditch, beginning as a drystone lining butting
the north side of the inner passage. This drystone
lining was identified by Hemp (1930, 188) as a clay-
set wall preserved to the height of the passage’s
primary fills, but which was probably originally a full
height wall (Fig. 10). At the original entrance to the
inner passage, its character changes, consisting of
three tall orthostats which once supported a capstone
and which restricted considerably the width of the
entrance at this point. Beyond this point, the passage
continues for 3 m as a line of 0.6 m high orthostats.
At the north-east end the outer passage joins with the
outer kerb of the tomb and it is likely that both these
features were constructed at the same time. This kerb
of substantial stones sits in the base of the ditch
where, Hemp argued, it must have been set shortly
after the ditch was opened (Fig. 6). A layer of mound
material was built up against the inner face of this
kerb, presumably forming a low platform covering the
remaining open ground enclosed by the ditch. A
second, less substantial inner kerb was then built on
top of this layer, providing further definition to the
entrance area and the circumference of the monument
(see Fig. 6 and plan view in Fig. 2). Convention would
suggest that the whole monument was then
completely covered by a domed mound although there
is no evidence to support this view. As an alternative,
it could be argued that the monument was left as a
low stepped platform with only the first phase mound
raised to any significant height. If the latter hypothesis
is correct, the finished monument would have looked
similar to its present day appearance, albeit with a
slightly larger mound covering the chamber.
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261
DATING THE TOMB’S CONSTRUCTION
Eight dates were derived from contexts
stratigraphically linked to the development or use of
the tomb. Four from contexts which were sealed by
mound material, and four which relate to the use of
the tomb as a burial place (Table 2). With the possible
exception of UB-7116, discussed above, all have
calibrated ranges falling between 3500 and 2910 cal
BC, which includes an unfortunately flat portion of the
calibration curve. Nonetheless, the stratigraphic
distinction between pre-tomb and tomb contexts
allows a Bayesian model to be constructed which
suggests that the tomb was built sometime between
3045 and 2978 cal BC at 1 sd and 3074 and 2956 cal
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262
Fig. 8.
The pattern stone. The lower part of the stone has been roughly shaped, probably by burning and breaking off a
projection on the lower right to increase the symmetry of the piece. The decoration on the stone accentuates flaws
and fracture lines in the stone, and it seems likely that the design was produced on the basis of what the stone
could offer, rather than being in line with an entirely preconceived concept (The pattern stone is stored upright in
a removable metal frame which prevents ready access to the lower part of the stone. The outline shape of the
stone was produced when the stone was lifted for redisplay in a new gallery. It was not possible to draw the
entire stone during this narrow window of opportunity, but its surface was inspected carefully for additional
markings, none of which were found.)
BC at 2 sd. If enough labourers were available the
construction sequence described above need not have
taken long to complete. Just 2 years would have been
sufficient, to mark out the solstice, build the tomb,
and then double-check and refine the alignment in the
second year.
There are very few dates from developed passage
tombs in the Irish Sea area. The Mound of the
Hostages, Co. Meath, is the most securely dated
(O’Sullivan 2006), and a construction date towards
the end of the 4th millennium BC can be suggested on
the basis of these determinations. Dates from other
sites in the Boyne Valley, such as Knowth and
Newgrange, also suggest a major building phase in the
last centuries of the 4th millennium (O’Kelly 1982;
Eogan 1986; Grogan 1991). On present evidence it
seems, therefore, that the spread of passage tombs to
Anglesey occurred late in the history of this tomb-type.
RITUALS OF DEATH
The disturbance of chamber and passage deposits in
the 18th and 19th centuries severely limits our
knowledge of Bryn Celli Ddu as a burial place. Early
records describe the discovery of human bone but
without detailed indications of context or quantity
(Hemp 1930, 179). Even so, Hemp recovered a very
small quantity of bone from the passage during his
own excavations and three radiocarbon dates were
obtained from this (UB-7114, 7115, 7117), along
with a single date from a cremation deposited behind
a stone of the outer kerb near the entrance (UB-7118).
Only unidentifiable bone fragments were dated,
raising the possibility that these all derive from the
same cremated individual, but this seems unlikely
since the samples were recovered from primary
contexts at different points along or outside the
passage. Bayesian modelling of these dates suggests
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263
Fig. 9.
Phased construction model suggested by the author: a. first phase consisting of central pit, ditch, chamber, inner passage,
and small mound; b. final phase including the outer passage, kerbs, and enlarged mound
Bryn Celli Ddu was in use as a burial site for between
5 and 182 years (at 2 sd).
But the rites of death at Bryn Celli Ddu extended
beyond the deposition of bone and several features of
the site’s architecture provide some clues as to what
was considered an appropriate reverence for these
human remains. The tomb’s careful alignment on the
summer solstice clearly linked the dead to an annual
solar rhythm and, specifically, to the warmest and
most physically comfortable part of that rhythm. In
this the tomb builders were mirroring developments at
other passage tombs, as detailed below. Frances Lynch
(1973) has also argued, from evidence in Hemp’s
report, that the outer passage may have been
deliberately blocked during the Neolithic so that the
dead were sealed off from the living, and the sun’s rays
could only penetrate the chamber as a narrow slit (Fig.
10). Once this blocking was in place, the only way to
add more remains to the chamber would have been to
either throw them in or to crawl over or dig out the
clay-set packing.
Given the possibility that the chamber may have
been sealed off at an early stage in its history, it is
interesting to note that the dead seem to have been
provided with a symbolic companion. In the north
side of the chamber is a free-standing stone pillar,
which rises c. 1.70 m above ground level (Fig. 11).
Burl (1999, 167) interpreted this as a ‘protectress’,
analogous to similar stones found in Breton tombs or,
indeed, to the apparently anthropomorphic
decoration on stone 22 at Barclodiad y Gawres, also
on Anglesey (see also Powell & Daniel 1956, 42).
Within the gloom of the tomb, the pillar certainly
appears anthropomorphic, although phallic
symbolism could also be argued. What is especially
interesting is that the pillar was set in a position
within the tomb which is permanently in shadow. To
extend the protectress metaphor, the pillar has
watched over the bones in the chamber since their
deposition and has witnessed the solstice sun shining
on the quartz-rich rear wall of the chamber, while
never being illuminated itself.
If Lynch is correct in her view that the outer
passage was blocked shortly after its construction –
and the radiocarbon dates support her in this – then it
is possible that the protectress was the only witness to
the sunrise effect until the tomb was disturbed in more
recent times. This has important implications for an
understanding of the purpose of the solstice
alignment, suggesting that it was created to nourish
the dead rather than the living. For anyone
performing ceremonies outside the tomb, the ray of
light striking the rear wall of the chamber would have
provided a rare and limited view of a normally dark
and inaccessible space.
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264
Fig. 10.
Section view of the passage distinguishing between first and final phase construction elements (based on an unpublished
field plan produced November 1928, rather than the published plan which includes amendments to the entrance area).
First phase, chamber and inner passage shown in white; final phase, outer passage and outer kerb shown in grey. The
possible implications of the now-missing outer capstone and the blocking of the outer passage on the solar alignment,
as argued by Lynch (1973), is indicated
SECRET KNOWLEDGE
The inaccessibility of the chamber’s contents, the
purpose of the passage’s alignment (only obvious if
pointed out on the solstice), and the pillar stone, all
suggest that Bryn Celli Ddu was deliberately imbued
with ‘secret knowledge’ which would have required a
level of initiation before it could be understood. And
it is likely that this process of texturing the monument
with meaning was begun at the very start of
construction work, as evidenced by the token
cremation deposits concealed beneath the stone arc,
and the pattern stone laid flat and sealed by the
mound. Many of these features find parallels at other
passage tombs, suggesting that the builders were
conversant not just with the constructional elements
of this monument type, but also with the associated
symbolism of the construction process. Either the
builders were local to Anglesey, but were immersed in
the detail of passage tomb ritual as practised in
Ireland, Brittany, or further south along the Atlantic
seaboard, or they were an immigrant community from
one of these areas.
Some elements of the secret knowledge at Bryn
Celli Ddu are widespread across areas in which
passage tombs were built. Hidden decoration is
known from the Boyne valley and Brittany (eg, Eogan
1998; Le Roux 1985), while solar alignments are
known from the Boyne Valley (Newgrange, midwinter
sunrise; Patrick 1974), Orkney (Maes Howe,
midwinter sunset; MacKie 1988), and the Channel
Islands (Le Hougue Bie, spring equinox; Patton et al.
1999). In this context, the suggestion raised by Pollard
and Ruggles (2001) that the solar alignment at
Stonehenge may have been observed when this
monument was first built (around 2950 cal BC)
becomes particularly interesting.
Other features at Bryn Celli Ddu serve to re-inforce
the link between this tomb and structures in Ireland.
Ó Súilleabháin (1988, 169) has argued that the inner
kerb at Bryn Celli Ddu has parallels with Fourknocks
I in Co. Meath, Ireland (Hartnett 1957, pl. lxiv), while
the continuous ditch, central pit, and hidden
decoration has parallels at Fourknocks II (Hartnett
1971). Eogan’s suggestion of a parallel between the
Bryn Celli Ddu ditch and that found at Newgrange K
has already been noted (Eogan 1983). The decoration
on the pattern stone has been linked to that found at
Drumreagh, Co. Down, Ireland, and Monté do Eiró in
Portugal (Ó Súilleabháin 1988, 167; Shee Twohig
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Fig. 11.
The pillar stone set within the chamber (photo from
Hemp’s excavation archive)
1981, figs 272, 277; Fig. 12), while Lynch (1967, 20)
has suggested a stylistic link with Gavrinis in Brittany.
On the basis of the evidence presented above, it seems
likely that the inspiration for, and perhaps the builders
of, Bryn Celli Ddu came from Ireland, but the
possibility that the tomb has its origins in Brittany or
Iberia cannot be ruled out.
Other evidence for an intrusive ‘classic’ passage
tomb culture within this part of Britain is sparse. Most
prominent is the tomb of Barclodiad y Gawres set on
a sea cliff, 18 km west of Bryn Celli Ddu; the extensive
decoration at this site has been linked to sources in
Iberia (Powell & Daniel 1956, 57) and Ireland (Lynch
1967, 22). A Carrowkeel ware bowl has also been
found 10 km to the north in a pit at Llanbedrgoch
(Redknap 1996; identification by A. Sheridan, pers.
comm.). To date this example of an Irish pottery style,
typically associated with passage tombs, is unique in
the Welsh Neolithic. Further afield is the spiral-
decorated stone now in the Church of St Peter,
Llanbedr, which may be derived from a passage tomb
(Lynch 1992), and the Calderstones, near Liverpool
(Forde-Johnston 1957).
TOMB USE AND MONUMENTAL ARCHITECTURE IN
WALES AROUND 3000 CAL. BC
These passage tomb intrusions were built in a region
which already had a long tradition of megalithic
construction, including such forms as portal dolmens
and Clyde-related cairns and, further south,
Cotswold-Severn tombs (Burrow 2006; Nash 2006).
Many of these monuments, built in the first half of the
4th millennium cal BC, were probably still relevant to
the lives of later generations as sites of ritual activity.
This is demonstrated on Anglesey at Trefignath,
where Peterborough pottery was deposited in the
forecourt of a tomb related to the Clyde Cairn series
(Smith & Lynch 1987, 78), and further south at
Gwernvale in Powys, where the same pottery style
was buried in pits in front of the entrance to a
Cotswold-Severn tomb (Britnell & Savory 1984, 88).
Other Cotswold-Severn tombs in south Wales
continued to be used as burial sites, albeit
intermittently, for example at Parc le Breos Cwm on
Gower, where a body was interred 3350–2910 cal BC
(OxA-6489 4445±60 BP; Whittle & Wysocki 1998,
148), and Thornwell Farm in Monmouthshire, where
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266
Fig. 12.
Suggested parallels for the Pattern Stone: a. Monté do Eiró, Portugal; b. Drumreagh stone Co. Down (after Shee Twohig
1981, figs 272, 277. By permission of Oxford University Press)
two individuals were buried in 3340–3020 cal BC and
3020–2890 cal BC (OxA-18899, 4833±30 BP and
OxA-18897, 4325±29 BP; Maylan 1991). And burial
also continued at the portal dolmen at Carreg Coetan
Arthur in Pembrokeshire with a cremation being
interred 3100–2890 cal BC (UB-6752, 3214±70 BP;
Kytmannow 2008, 101). But while old tombs
continued to have value in south and west Wales there
is no proof that new tombs were built in these areas
around 3000 cal BC.
This was not the case in north Wales as Bryn Celli
Ddu demonstrates, and it may not have been the only
tomb to be built at this time, with Bryn yr Hen Bobl,
just 1.5 km away, providing the best evidence to
support this claim. Bryn yr Hen Bobl, also excavated
by Hemp, consisted of a kidney-shaped mound
opening to a single chamber, butted by a c. 90 m long
terrace (Hemp 1935). Peterborough sherds were used
as foundation deposits beneath this terrace (Leivers et
al. 2001, 9) indicating a construction date after 3400
cal BC, while radiocarbon dates on inhumed bone in
the tomb chamber show that this was in use by
3330–2920 cal BC (OxA-12742, 4441±34 BP;
Schulting, pers. comm.). Bryn yr Hen Bobl does not fit
easily into a classic typological group – it lacks a
passage and its builders practiced inhumation rather
than cremation – but as Herity (1974) has argued,
some of its features bear comparison with passage
tomb design and ritual. For example, it has a
monumental mound, up to 37 m in diameter, and a
central chamber which is comparable to that in the
Mound of the Hostages, Tara. A bone ball found in
this chamber is also comparable with finds in Irish
passage tombs. Although it is not a typical passage
tomb, Bryn yr Hen Bobl suggests the work of a
community influenced by passage tomb culture. And
the possibility that it is part of a wider burial tradition
on the island is suggested by the tomb at Pant y Saer
(Scott 1933) which also has a kidney-shaped mound
and inhumed burials.
Although it is not known with certainty when Bryn
yr Hen Bobl was built, OxA-12742 demonstrates a
likelihood that it was in use before the construction of
Bryn Celli Ddu, as dated by the model presented
above. If this is indeed the case, then it suggests that
the builders of this latter monument may have begun
their work in an area which was already well-aware of
passage tomb culture, even if the details of this
tradition’s architecture and ritual may not have been
widely appreciated.
These substantial tombs must have stood out at this
time as dramatic and permanent statements,
contrasting with the ephemeral architecture of
settlement. Indeed, contemporary domestic structures
are entirely unknown on Anglesey, with occupation
features being largely confined to pit sites like those at
Capel Eithin (3350–2870 cal BC, CAR-488, 4380±80
BP; White & Smith 1999), Cleifiog Uchaf (3370–2490
cal BC, Beta-127199, 4300±150 BP; Davidson
unpublished), and Llanbedrgoch (3500–3090 cal BC,
Beta-90547, 4560±50 BP; Redknap 1996). Another
well-dated group containing Peterborough Ware has
also been found just 8.5 km from Bryn Celli
Ddu, across the Menai Straits at Parc Bryn Cegin
(Kenney 2005).
The only other substantial construction project in
north Wales which radiocarbon dates place as a near
contemporary of Bryn Celli Ddu is Llandegai A,
adjacent to Parc Bryn Cegin (Lynch & Musson 2001).
This consists of an 80 m diameter circular enclosure
with bank inside ditch. The enclosure is not itself
directly dated but cremated bone and oak charcoal
from pits in the interior have returned dates of
3370–2930 cal BC and 3350–2920 cal BC respectively
(GrN-22954, 4480±50 BP and GrN-27192, 4450±40
BP). Furthermore, immediately outside the narrow
south-west entrance was dug a small circle of
elongated pits which contained cremated remains
from at least six individuals. Two oak charcoal dates
from these returned 3020–2880 cal BC and
3330–2910 cal BC (GrN-26817, 4320±30 BP and
GrN-26818, 4420±40 BP). The function of Llandegai
A is unknown, although its association with the dead
suggests its use had a ritual component. Its size,
precise circularity, and narrow entrance has led
several authors to compare it with Stonehenge Phase
1, a comparison re-inforced by the cremation deposits
found at both sites (Parker Pearson et al. 2009), but it
has more local parallels in Wales and the Borders,
including Castell Bryn Gwyn on Anglesey
(Wainwright 1962), and Ysceifiog in Flintshire (Fox
1926) (see Burrow 2010 for further possible
examples). Given that enclosures like these appears to
have been among the most pronounced architectural
statements made in north Wales at the end of the 4th
millennium cal BC it might perhaps be reasonable to
see the encircling ditch at Bryn Celli Ddu as being
inspired in part by this tradition, rather than purely by
rare Irish passage tomb precedent. Certainly the
builders of this passage tomb must have been aware
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267
that they were going about their work in a region with
its own contemporary monumental traditions.
Although the present study has provided fresh
information about Bryn Celli Ddu’s construction date
and initial use as a burial site there is no evidence to
indicate that it served this role for very long, or that it
provided a focus for much subsequent Late Neolithic
activity. Indeed, evidence of continued use of the area
around it is absent until the construction of a round
barrow and standing stones in the Early Bronze Age
(Newell 1931). This might seem surprising given the
apparent continuity of use and re-use at passage
tombs in the Boyne Valley (Stout 2002), but it is
possible that it is a consequence of Bryn Celli Ddu’s
peripheral position within the geographical area over
which passage tombs were common. Indeed, while
Bryn Celli Ddu went out of use, Llandegai – part of a
more ‘British’ tradition of ‘formative henges’ –
continued to be an important ritual centre with its
circular enclosure being replaced by a henge which
closely mirrored the size and alignment of the earlier
monument. After a brief moment of drama, the
planting of a passage tomb tradition in Wales appears
to have withered to nothing.
Endnotes
1It has become normal to describe this feature as a stone
circle although excavation failed to locate stone-holes on the
otherwise open north-eastern side of the arc (see Hemp
1930, 204). In the absence of evidence for a complete stone
circle it seems unreasonable to perpetuate this descriptive
term at Bryn Celli Ddu.
2Baynes (1912, 23) notes that the chamber of Presaddfed is
remarkably similar in design to Bryn Celli Ddu, and he
proposes that this site may also have had a passageway
aligned on the midsummer sunrise. This conclusion is worth
investigating.
3Bryony Coles (pers. comm.) has suggested that these pine
posts may have been made from bog wood. If this is the case
the possibility remains that the structure outside the
entrance of Bryn Celli Ddu may still date from the time of
the tomb. Mesolithic pine charcoal has also been dated at
two other later sites in Wales: a ring ditch at Four Crosses
(CAR-850, 6990±80 BP; Warrilow et al. 1986, 62), and in a
feature below the enclosure bank of Llandegai A (GrN-
27193, 7965±25 BP; Lynch & Musson 2001, 117). Beyond
Wales, Mesolithic pine posts have also been found in the
carpark at Stonehenge, a site which bears other comparisons
with Bryn Celli Ddu (HAR-455, 9130±180 BP; HAR-456,
8090±140 BP) (Cleal et al. 1995, 43–7).
4The stratigraphy of the encircling ditch has become pivotal
to interpretation of Bryn Celli Ddu and yet the various
interpretations which have been proposed are entirely
reliant on the results of excavations conducted almost 90
years ago. While the author believes that the model
proposed here makes the best use of the available published
and unpublished evidence relating to the ditch, it is clear
that re-excavation of a section is the only way to provide
complete clarity over this issue.
5Hemp undertook significant reconstruction work at Bryn
Celli Ddu but there is no evidence that his restoration
changed the position of any stones relevant to the discussion
presented here.
6See Cleal et al. (1995, 529) for a broadly contemporary
example of curated animal bone at Stonehenge
7A drawing of Bryn Celli Ddu published in 1847 clearly
shows spoil on the top of the capstone, indicating that the
mound was once this high (Anon 1847, 3). This piece of
evidence was pivotal to 19th century efforts to
demonstrate that Welsh ‘cromlechs’ were originally mound-
covered tombs and were not open as druid altars (see
Burrow 2006, 133).
Acknowledgements
This paper was produced with funding from Cadw and
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. The
fieldwork component was undertaken with the assistance of
Ashley McAvoy.
Aspects of the interpretations contained here have been
presented at seminars in Cardiff, Dublin, and Lampeter
Universities, as well as at the Neolithic Studies Group and
the author is grateful for the views of those who contributed
to these sessions. Advice on the solar alignment at Bryn Celli
Ddu has also been received from Frank Prendergast and
Tania Ruiz, and on the modelling of the radiocarbon dates
from Pete Marshall. Permission to use unpublished dates
from Bryn yr Hen Bobl was generously granted by Rick
Schulting. Illustrations were produced by Tony Daly, with
permission to use Figure 12 being granted by Elizabeth A.
Twohig. The author would also like to thank Alison
Sheridan for reading an early draft of this paper, and for the
guidance of three anonymous referees.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Anonymous. 1847. Cromlech at Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey.
Archaeologia Cambrensis 2, 3–6
Barnwell, E.L. 1869. Cromlechs in north Wales.
Archaeologia Cambrensis NS 3(15), 118–47
Baynes, E.N. 1912. The megalithic remains of Anglesey.
Transactions of the Honourable Society of
Cymmrodorion, 3–91
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... Such effects were also allegedly incorporated into Neolithic European structures (see Bradley 1989 for a general treatment), especially in those connected with the dead, such as dolmens and passage graves. Notable examples are Newgrange in Ireland (Patrick 1974;Prendergast 2014Prendergast , 1273Ray 1989; see also Hensey 2017), Maeshowe in the Orkney Islands (MacKie 1997), Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey (Burl 1983, 29-30;Burrow 2010) or Fontvielle in southern France (Saletta 2011). ...
... Those illumination effects were incorporated and have been studied in several Neolithic European structures (see Bradley 1989 for a general treatment and McCluskey 2015 for a recent review), especially in those connected with the dead, dolmens and passage graves, such as Newgrange in Ireland (Patrick 1974;Prendergast 2014Prendergast , 1273Ray 1989), Maes Howe in the Orkney Islands (Burl 1983, 30;Hedges 1984, 160), Bryn Celli Ddu in Anglesey (Burl 1983, 29-30;Burrow 2010) or Fontvielle in southern France (Saletta 2011). ...
... Internal disposition of the monument may indicate intentionality in two ways. First, and although it could be artificially lit, it should be noted that most of the time the megalithic chamber would be in darkness, relating darkness with the realm of the dead; the direction of natural light towards the inner sanctum that occurs only at specific times of the year in several European monuments (Burl 1983, 29-30;Burrow 2010;Hensey 2017;MacKie 1997;Patrick 1974;Prendergast 2014Prendergast , 1273Ray 1989;Saletta 2011) may then suggest an intentionality aimed at signalling specific moments deemed important for the life cycle of the community. Secondly, the interaction of plays of light and shadow with specific architectural -(e.g. ...
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... La deuxième zone géographique qui se démarque, d'après la qualité des publications, est l'île d'Anglesey dans l'extrême nord-ouest du pays ( Figure 6). Cotswold dont elle est l'exemple le plus occidental (Lynch 1969(Lynch , 1970Smith et al. 1987), ainsi que celle de Pant y Saer (5) (Daniel 1950 ;Lynch 1969Lynch , 1970Pitts, M., 2006 ;Nash 2006 ;Burrow 2010), mais surtout la tombe à couloir cruciforme de Barclodiad y Gawres (2) Avec plus de 80 monuments funéraires néolithiques recensés , ces îles constituent un des plus remarquables ensembles de monuments mégalithiques de Grande-Bretagne. De plus, la nature du sol, très rocailleuse dans certaines zones, ainsi qu'un climat peu propice de manière générale à une activité agricole intensive, ont permis une excellente conservation des monuments. ...
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... Also in Orkney, the Stones of Stenness are dated to 3020-2890 bce (Schulting et al. 2010, 35-6). The small stone circle later covered by the passage tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey in the north of Wales is associated with cremation burials dating to 3500-3100 bce and 3310-2900 bce (Burrow 2010). Of closely comparable size to Waun Mawn, the circle of Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria, 172 km in diameter, is dated to 3340-3100 bce on hazel charcoal from one of its stoneholes (Archaeological Services Durham University 2016). ...
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Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, built 4,500–5,000 years ago during the Neolithic in a time long before written history. The recent dramatic discovery of a dismantled stone circle near the sources of some of Stonehenge’s stones in southwest Wales raises the fascinating possibility that an ancient story about Stonehenge’s origin, written down 900 years ago and subsequently dismissed as pure invention, might contain a grain of truth. This article explores the pros and cons of comparing the legend with the archaeological evidence.
... Signs of that wider connectivity include: similarities between antler and polished stone maceheads in Ireland and Britain (the Garboldisham macehead also sports a spiral design reminiscent of Irish passage tomb motifs: ; the possibility that disarticulated bones buried in a pit in Wiltshire derive from an adult male who had previously lived in Ireland (based on 87 Sr/ 86 Sr and 18 O values) and were deposited in a way known in Ireland at that time (Roberts et al. 2020, 21, 27); the passage tombs on Anglesey (Burrow 2010) and the ditchless henge at Mayburgh (Topping 1992), which have comparators in Ireland, and; the carving of motifs seen in passage grave art on vertical rock surfaces at Copt Howe and Long Meg in Cumbria (Bradley et al. 2019). As far as we know, large passage tombs with parietal art were not present on the Isle of Man, and neither were henge monuments, but the presence of Grooved Ware and two small lozenge-decorated plaques on the island after c. 3000 BC, as well as the presence of RTB axes in a few parts of Britain, suggests at least some continuing interaction between the Isle of Man and Ireland and Britain in the Late Neolithic. ...
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While the Early Neolithic chambered tombs of the Isle of Man are well known and the Late Neolithic has been clearly defined with reference to a distinctive suite of artefacts, little is known about the Middle Neolithic. This article reports on 17 new Neolithic radiocarbon dates from cremated human remains from the Isle of Man. These identify five burials in cists as Middle Neolithic and indicate new sequences of activity at cemeteries starting in the Middle Neolithic. Each of these sites is examined in detail. The dates also spur a reconsideration of the development of Ronaldsway pottery and the integration of Grooved Ware pottery and motifs into early 3rd millennium practice on the island. The paper ends with a consideration of the changing effects of mortuary practices throughout the Neolithic on the Isle of Man and a discussion of connections with Middle and Late Neolithic activity in Ireland and Britain.
... Bryn Celli Ddu also possesses a series of other unique distinctions of interest to the prehistorian. First, radiocarbon dating indicates that the tomb was built circa 3000 BC [8], but it appears to have been constructed over an earlier henge and stone circle, implying a dramatically early date for these typically later Neolithic monuments. Second, the passage into the tomb is deliberately aligned so that on the summer solstice the first light of the rising sun shines directly down to the very back of the central burial chamber (Figure 1). ...
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... shows the final form of the monument (Gibson and Simpson 1998, pp.9-10) Bryn Celli Ddu ('the mound in the dark grove') (Fig 165) is a passage grave lying on the eastern side of the Isle of Anglesey; there is considerable disagreement over the development of the monument, with some authorities seeing the site as originally a henge with an interior stone circle or arc (O'Kelly 1969), followed by a passage grave whose extent covered the original circle. Others see the circle and mound as contemporaries (Eogan 1983, pp.135-6;Bradley in Gibson and Simpson 1998, pp.9-10); a variant of this view is forwarded by Burrow (2010) who suggests the original mound was small enough to fit within the circle, only later to be extended over the stones (as we see in Fig 166 c); despite these differences, all agree on the 'final' form of the monument (Fig 166). ...
Thesis
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Following the work of Larsson and Kristiansen’s ‘The Rise of Bronze Age Society’ (2005) that utilised Indo-European myth to shed light on the iconography of Bronze Age Scandinavian art, this thesis postulates a similar relationship between Proto-Indo-European mythology and the ceremonial sites of the British Neolithic, arguing both, at root, share a derivation from astronomical imagery, which suggests the ’skyscape’ was as important to the builders of these monuments as the ‘landscape’, if not more so. The mythological material utilised in this study is reconstructed using extant comparative Indo-European literature and is based on comparative linguistic reconstructions, while the archaeological data is taken from 55 sites (50 henges or associated circular timber structures, and 5 passage graves). The hypothesis that such structures are oriented on astronomical events is tested, with specific case studies explored in detail (Stonehenge, Avebury henge, the Sanctuary, Woodhenge, Thornborough, Bryn Celli Ddu, Barclodiad y Gawres and Yeavering). The analysis demonstrates a concentration of alignments on the rising and setting of certain stars within the Milky Way (those of Cassiopeia and Crux) on or around the Winter Solstice, on the rising and setting of Orion, and with the rising of the sun as it crosses the Milky Way around the start of May. These alignments often utilise local landscape features such as hills (or artificial mounds) and rivers and are linked to ritual deposition of cattle remains – all facets that can be explained in terms of the Proto-Indo-European cosmology reconstructed within this thesis, which, it is argued, is ultimately of Neolithic Near Eastern pedigree. This thesis not only provides evidence of a Neolithic ‘shaping mythology’ that Richard Bradley in his ‘On the Significance of Monuments’ (1998) suggested might lie behind the form and function of ritual sites, but also suggests that astronomical symbolism (especially concerning the Milky Way) was at the heart of both this Neolithic myth and the rituals performed at such sites.
Conference Paper
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Recent studies, based on the introduction of radiocarbon datings in a bayesian framework, have allowed me to reconsider and refine the chronology of the collective tombs of the Orkney Islands in the far north of Scotland (Sévin-Allouet 2013). From these results, it appears that a major rupture in the social organization of populations of the archipelago occurred in the last third of the fourth millennium BC. The evolution of architectures, and the modification in the selection of people buried, but also the radical changes in methods used for treating the body are evidence of this social change.These elements allow us to consider the passage from a personal hierarchy characterizing a segmental society of the ‘tribal’ type, as defined by Service (Service 1962), to a lineage hierarchy. In the first, relating to people who erected the monuments of the Orkney-Cromarty type, the ‘power by skills’ is exercised at the level of a tribe or a small group. In the second, it seems that the power becomes ‘inherited’. The organization of the rooms and the massive appearance of Maeshowe monuments in the landscape also suggest that power is now monopolized by one or many groups, which are able to mobilize a large workforce over a wide area. Hence, there would have appeared, very early on in this area located on the fringes of northern Europe, the beginnings of a transition to a lineage hierarchy and social organization of the ‘chiefdom’ type.
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The majority of Irish passage tombs (c. 230) predominantly date to the Middle Neolithic (c. 3600–3000 BC). A small number of summit cairns may also contain passage tombs because of their round form, proximity and intervisibility. The island’s passage tombs and related cairns share distinguishing characteristics—elevated siting, visibility and long-range views of distant horizons in varying directions of the compass. This chapter presents the findings of the first scenic analysis of the horizon and views at these sites recorded at an island scale. The method uses measured orientations of horizon sectors related to observed variation in horizon range. This shows that tomb location was likely selected with a preference for view of the distant horizon and, curiously, also in the northerly direction in many cases. This sector of the horizon lies beyond the extreme rising and setting limits of the sun and moon. It is also the region of circumpolar stars which never rise or set and are perpetual in a viewing sense. The hypothesis that the process of cremation released the spirit of the dead to travel to the abode of the ancestors in the north sky, a zone commonly associated with death and the afterlife by other later cultures, is explored.
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The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge's bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.<br/
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If radiocarbon measurements are to be used at all for chronological purposes, we have to use statistical methods for calibration. The most widely used method of calibration can be seen as a simple application of Bayesian statistics, which uses both the information from the new measurement and information from the 14 C calibration curve. In most dating applications, however, we have larger numbers of 14 C measurements and we wish to relate those to events in the past. Bayesian statistics provides a coherent framework in which such analysis can be performed and is becoming a core element in many 14 C dating projects. This article gives an overview of the main model components used in chronological analysis, their mathematical formulation, and examples of how such analyses can be performed using the latest version of the OxCal software (v4). Many such models can be put together, in a modular fashion, from simple elements, with defined constraints and groupings. In other cases, the commonly used “uniform phase” models might not be appropriate, and ramped, exponential, or normal distributions of events might be more useful. When considering analyses of these kinds, it is useful to be able run simulations on synthetic data. Methods for performing such tests are discussed here along with other methods of diagnosing possible problems with statistical models of this kind.
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This paper highlights some of the main developments to the radiocarbon calibration program, OxCal. In addition to many cosmetic changes, the latest version of OxCal uses some different algorithms for the treatment of multiple phases. The theoretical framework behind these is discussed and some model calculations demonstrated. Significant changes have also been made to the sampling algorithms used which improve the convergence of the Bayesian analysis. The convergence itself is also reported in a more comprehensive way so that problems can be traced to specific parts of the model. The use of convergence data, and other techniques for testing the implications of particular models, are described.
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Statistical analysis is becoming much more widely used in conjunction with radiocarbon dating. In this paper I discuss the impact of Bayesian analysis (using computer programs such as OxCal) on archaeological research. In addition to simple analysis, the method has implications for the planning of dating projects and the assessment of the reliability of dates in their context. A new formalism for describing chronological models is introduced here: the Chronological Query Language (CQL), an extension of the model definitions found in the program OxCal. New methods of Bayesian analysis can be used to overcome some of the inherent biases in the uncertainty estimates of scientific dating methods. Most of these methods, including ¹⁴ C, uranium series and thermoluminescence (TL), tend to favor some calendar dates over others. ¹⁴ C calibration overcomes the problem where this is possible, but a Bayesian approach can be used more generally.
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A new calibration curve for the conversion of radiocarbon ages to calibrated (cal) ages has been constructed and internationally ratified to replace IntCal98, which extended from 0–24 cal kyr BP (Before Present, 0 cal BP = AD 1950). The new calibration data set for terrestrial samples extends from 0–26 cal kyr BP, but with much higher resolution beyond 11.4 cal kyr BP than IntCal98. Dendrochronologically-dated tree-ring samples cover the period from 0–12.4 cal kyr BP. Beyond the end of the tree rings, data from marine records (corals and foraminifera) are converted to the atmospheric equivalent with a site-specific marine reservoir correction to provide terrestrial calibration from 12.4–26.0 cal kyr B P. A substantial enhancement relative to IntCal98 is the introduction of a coherent statistical approach based on a random walk model, which takes into account the uncertainty in both the calendar age and the 14 C age to calculate the underlying calibration curve (Buck and Blackwell, this issue). The tree-ring data sets, sources of uncertainty, and regional offsets are discussed here. The marine data sets and calibration curve for marine samples from the surface mixed layer (Marine04) are discussed in brief, but details are presented in Hughen et al. (this issue a). We do not make a recommendation for calibration beyond 26 cal kyr BP at this time; however, potential calibration data sets are compared in another paper (van der Plicht et al., this issue).
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People usually study the chronologies of archaeological sites and geological sequences using many different kinds of evidence, taking into account calibrated radiocarbon dates, other dating methods and stratigraphic information. Many individual case studies demonstrate the value of using statistical methods to combine these different types of information. I have developed a computer program, OxCal, running under Windows 3.1 (for IBM PCs), that will perform both 14 C calibration and calculate what extra information can be gained from stratigraphic evidence. The program can perform automatic wiggle matches and calculate probability distributions for samples in sequences and phases. The program is written in C++ and uses Bayesian statistics and Gibbs sampling for the calculations. The program is very easy to use, both for simple calibration and complex site analysis, and will produce graphical output from virtually any printer.
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Recent research at the great Irish passage tomb of Knowth has revealed new decorated stones, which were apparently recycled from an earlier tomb. Here, George Eogan describes the finds and discusses the implication of an early phase of tomb building predating the major passage tombs of the Boyne Valley.