The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Bryn Celli Ddu Passage Grave, Llanddaniel Fab, Anglesey, Wales


Plan of Bryn Celli Ddu, near Llanddaniel Fab, Anglesey, Wales.

Bryn Celli Ddu, near Llanddaniel Fab, Anglesey, and the entrance (portal).

NGR:- SH 50764 70187. One of the finest and best-preserved of the Neo-lithic monuments on Anglesey is the Bryn Celli Ddu passage grave  or chambered cairn, which is situated in a field ¾ of a mile to the southeast of Llanddaniel Fab. The monument is  recognisable with its truncated circular grassy mound and stone-built entrance (portal) at the E side leading into a roofed passageway and then into two polygonal burial chambers near the centre of the structure. The ritual pillar stone in the chamber is a replica and a stone in the walling has rock-art. The burial mound was excavated between 1925-29 at which time evidence of cremations were found in the chambers and elsewhere. At the base of the mound a circle of stones forming the kerb, while outside in the forecourt a standing stone with incised decoration; the outer ditch was possibly a henge and may predate the mound. Two cremation pits visible at front of the entrance, and at the side two hearths. To reach the site head SE from Llandanniel Fab towards Llanedwen, then after ½ a mile go left on the footpath NE and E to the monument, or from the A4080 head W on the footpath.

Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey, and a close-up of the entrance.

Passage-way into the burial chambers.

Bryn Celli Ddu’s burial mound measures 26 metres (85 feet 3″) in diameter and is formed out of a supporting revetment of large stones at its base, while the stone roofed passageway is 7.5 metres (26 ft 6″) in length and the inner chamber is 2.5 metres (8 ft 2″) in width. The total measurements of the mound across including the outer, partly buried ditch, are roughly 19 metres (62 ft- 0° deg) by 20 metres (65 ft – 279° deg). There is a circle of fourteen stones in front of the mound at the centre of which a pit is covered-over by a recumbent slab-stone; beside this pit is the decorated standing stone. The outer ditch, which was possibly an earlier henge, is partly buried and filled. Five stones standing at the front of the entrance mark where there were originally five socket-holes for stones, while just behind these the pit that had contained the skeleton of an ox.

Jacquetta Hawkes (1975) tells us that: “The imposing tomb is the finest representative in England and Wales of a type of monument well known in Ireland and Scotland, in which a large polygonal chamber is approached along a much narrower passage, the whole being covered by a round cairn or mound. Bryn Celli lies near a farm road just south of Llanddaniel Fab; since its excavation and restoration it has been protected by a Department of the Environment railing, and the key must be fetched from the farmhouse. As now restored a passage and chamber built of large uprights with drystone fillings are covered by a mound with a kerb of quite large stones. Inside the chamber is a pillar stone, almost perfectly circular in cross-section and with an artificially smoothed surface; a monolith of this form and in this position can be assumed to have had a phallic significance. Another most unusual feature is a stone now standing upright immediately beyond the end of the chamber at a point which would originally have been at the centre of the mound. This slab, which the excavator found prone above a ritual pit containing burnt bones, is covered with an incised design of wavy lines and spirals which meander over both faces and the narrow upper edge. The pattern makes one think of the magical maps of the journeyings of the spirit before birth, drawn by some aboriginal Australian tribes. There are many other details to see, but I have described enough to suggest the fascination and importance of Bryn-Celli-Ddu and the hints concerning the religious beliefs and ritual practices of its builders with which it tantalizes us.        

Harold Priestley (1976) says: “This is one of the rare examples of a passage grave under a circular mound, originally 160 ft (48.8 m) in diameter, but now little more than half that. The polygonal chamber almost at the centre of the mound is entered from a forecourt by means of a passage. The mound is ringed by a circle of large stones which at one time were buried under it.  Bryn Celli Ddu contained the only other stone in Britain besides Barclodiad y gawres on which were Neolithic designs. This is now in the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff and a plaster cast has been put in its place.  Some skeletons were found when the chamber was opened many years ago and the remains of fires and an ox burial were discovered in the forecourt.”  

Barber & Williams (1989) say regarding the prehistoric markings on stones at this site: “It is not surprising that the finest examples of these kind of markings are those that can be seen on the inside of a dolmen or burial barrow and have consequently been well protected from the elements. The finest example in Wales of such markings is inside dolmen called Bryn Celli Ddu, which is situated in the parish of Llandaniel Fab, Anglesey. The earliest book reference to Bryn Celli Ddu is in Archaeologia Cambria (1847), which is the first page of the old and well respected Welsh archaeo-logical journal. This and later yearly editions up to 1985 have a great deal of information, with plans and photographs relating to the site. An earlier reference, however, of little consequence can be found in The Journeys of Sir Richard Colt Hoare Through Wales and England (1793-1810), where it is mentioned as a carnedd overgrown.

“There are varying descriptions and photographs of the markings at Bryn Celli Ddu, which are formed by incised lines about ¼-inch deep and are considered to have been made by a pointed tool. One of the markings is an incised spiral on a pillar stone about 5 feet high which stands inside the chamber and some of the illustrations show other curious snake-like spirals. There has been no valid attempt at explaining the meaning of these markings, which are similar in form to those found at the ancient stone monument at New Grange in Meath, Ireland…..known as the Cave of the Sun.”

Bryn Celli Ddu is in the care of Cadw. Before setting out to visit the ancient monument, please check the Cadw website, as it may be closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions and also National guidelines.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd.,), London, 1975.

Priestley, Harold, The Observer’s Book of Ancient & Roman Britain, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd., London, England, 1976.

Wood, Eric S., Collins Field Guide To Archaeology,  Collins, St James’s Place, London, 1968.

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2021.

Author: sunbright57

I am interested in holy wells, standing stones and ancient crosses; also anything old, prehistoric, or unusual.

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