Bryn Celli Ddu is one of the finest passage tombs in Wales. Indeed it is both a passage and burial chamber, buried under a mound. It is only a boat and bike trip from Dublin, and this makes me wonder about the people who built it.
Standing inside the burial chamber is a pillar of blueschist, a metamorphic rock, 2 m high, with a rounded shape and unusual patterns. There is a replica of this stone just outside the chamber. The patterns on the stones are serpentine shapes that wind around both sides of the stones.
Radiocarbon dating of pine charcoal from two pits at the site showed are from around 4000 BC. In around 3000 BC a henge monument was constructed. An outer circular bank and ditch would have defined the boundary. Some 1000 years after the henge was built, all but one of the standing stones were intentionally damaged, some were knocked over and six were smashed with heavy stones. In its place a passage grave was built.
Knight and Lomas claimed that year-round alignments allowed the site to be used as an agricultural calendar. Steve Burrow has more recently supported the case for summer solstice alignment. This alignment links Bryn Celli Ddu to a handful of other sites, including Maes Howe, Orkney and Newgrange, Ireland, both of which point to the winter solstice. It has also been suggested that a feature similar to the ‘lightbox’ at Newgrange may be matched at Bryn Celli Ddu.
Bryn Celli Ddu means the ‘Mound in the Dark Grove’ in English. I am writing this article while the focus of the world is dominated by Covd 19. A Diocese in Ireland today decided to postpone all funerals until this pandemic is over. The burial and respect for the dead is a real symbol of what it means for us to be human. And here we see three waves if people doing that but taking different approaches to the use of the site – which incredibly was used for at least 2000 years to do just that. What did the people of 2000 BC think of those who came 2000 years before then? Were they aware of the island across the sea with similar burial instincts? Why was there a need to change and how did locals in this area feel about that?