CBHC / RCAHMW > News > Anglesey’s Neolithic tomb with a solar secret: ‘Here Comes the Sun’!

Anglesey’s Neolithic tomb with a solar secret: ‘Here Comes the Sun’!

The Summer Solstice takes place every year between June 20 and June 22 in the UK, marking the moment the sun reaches its highest elevation in the Northern Hemisphere, providing the UK with the longest day of the year, with sunlight that lasts for almost 17 hours. This year, 2024, the Summer Solstice takes place on Thursday 20  June. The term summer solstice is derived from Latin and means ‘the sun stands still’. The solstice – also referred to as Midsummer – is often thought of as a day-long event, but in fact represents a single moment in time: when the sun is at northernmost point from the earth’s equator during a single year.

Aerial view of the Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber taken in 1973 (Crown Copyright: RCAHMW, D.O.E Photographic Collection)

The Summer Solstice can be a magical event to experience with many people believing it connects us with our ancestors and the land. The Summer Solstice is celebrated all over the UK and in many different ways.  Bryn Celli Ddu (NPRN: 93827) on Anglesey is one of Wales’s most intriguing prehistoric monuments with a special connection with the summer solstice. Its most unusual feature can only be seen once a year. As the sun rises at the summer solstice shafts of light shine directly down the tomb’s passageway to illuminate the chamber within.

Bryn Celli Ddu: a Neolithic Passage Grave

Bryn Celli Ddu is a late Neolithic passage grave built around 3,000 BC, in the European Atlantic tradition, excavated and partly restored in the mid to late 1920s by W J Hemp (Hemp 1930), the Secretary of the Royal Commission. It is situated in Llanddaniel Fab, Anglesey and its Welsh name means ‘mound in the dark grove’. It comprises an outer circular stone kerb, around 26m diameter, with an inner stone arc, both of which encircle a simple passage tomb whose entrance lies on the east side.

Entrance to Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber (Crown Copyright: RCAHMW, D.O.E Photographic Collection)

The passage tomb is one of the finest of its kind in Wales. The c.7m long  forecourt and stone-lined entrance passage gives access to a central polygonal chamber made of large slabs. In the north angle of the chamber is a 1.7m high smoothed stone pillar, interpreted as a ‘protectress’ or tomb guardian in the style of Breton tombs.  One of the chamber stones bears a small spiral carving which is probably Neolithic.  As at other prehistoric sites, people buried their dead there to protect them and used it as a place to pay respect to their ancestors though there is evidence that the importance of the site can be traced further back in history.

Photo taken before 1960 showing an inscribed stone at Bryn Celli Ddu (Crown Copyright: RCAHMW)

Its significance to the summer solstice, when the sun rises and shines directly down the passage to illuminate the chamber, was finally proved and documented by the National Museum of Wales in 2005.  A central pit contained the most richly decorated Neolithic carved stone in Wales. The original is in the National Museum Wales, with a cast on site.

Bryn Celli Ddu sits at the heart of a ritual landscape and is therefore a place of archaeological importance as it provides an insight into prehistoric life and culture in Wales and Britain in general.  Surrounding the burial chamber is a plough-levelled cairn just to the south (NPRN 309540), a standing stone to the south-west (NPRN 302503) and a cup-marked rock to the west (NPRN 415847). The arrangement of the passage tomb and style of the rock art carvings has similarities with the passage tomb of Barclodiad y Gawres on western Anglesey (NPRN 95545).

Browse through our online database, Coflein, to discover more about this Neolithic burial chamber in Anglesey: Coflein – The online catalogue of archaeological sites, historic buildings, industrial and maritime heritage in Wales and please visit our online shop and download our free Anglesey Inventory: Anglesey: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in the County (eBook) – Siop CBHC – RCAHMW Shop.

Bryn Celli Ddu is in the care of  Cadw  and open daily. To find out more and to view a short, animated film, visit the Cadw website: Bryn Celli Ddu Chambered Tomb | Cadw (gov.wales)

20/06/2024

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