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Bryn Celli Ddu

4,000-Year-Old Burial Revealed on Welsh Island Linked to Mysterious Druid Sorcerers

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Excavations are underway on the 4,000-year-old Bronze Age burial cairn known as ‘Bryn Celli Ddu Bach’ on the British island of Anglesey, located off the north coast of Wales. Anglesey is famous for its association with the Druids, a mysterious order of Celtic sorcerers, healers and astrologers.  The cairn sits within a complex ritual landscape that is rich with megalithic monuments and ancient structures.

The North Wales Chronicle reports that the burial mound, which sets next to the famous, 5,000-year-old passage tomb of Bryn Celli Dhu, is under excavation until July 7. Researchers have already found panels of rock art, evidence of cremation, bone, flint tools, pits and prehistoric pottery sherds. What lies buried deeper within the mound still remains to be seen.

“The Bryn Celli Ddu site is a really complicated landscape, it appears to have been used as ritual landscape for thousands of years after it was first built,” Seren Griffiths, one of the dig directors, told North Wales Chronicle. "Generations of people would have known of its significance, we see a lot of superimposition of human activity on the site.”

The Celtic Druids arrived on Anglesey about two millennia after the construction of Bryn Celli Ddu, adding to the long and rich history of the island.

"People have been coming back to this landscape over thousands of years," University of Cardiff archaeologist Ffion Reynolds told Live Science. "They were adding their own mark onto the landscape."

The Mound in the Dark Grove

In a landscape dotted with Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, Anglesey is most famous for the Neolithic passage tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu, which is Welsh for “the mound in the dark grove”.

It was originally constructed with an outer circular bank and an inner ditch. In the center was a ritual enclosure that included a circle of standing stones, some of which still survive today.

About 1,000 years after its construction, it became a passage tomb. Some of the standing stones were deliberately destroyed, and a mound was built over the ritual enclosure. Within the mound is a polygonal stone chamber that was reached via an 8 meter (26 foot) long passageway. At the back of the chamber, archaeologists found a carved stone with a serpentine design.

Bryn Celli Ddu was also built to coincide with the rising sun on the summer solstice. On June 21, the longest day of the year, the sun’s rays beam down the passageway, lighting up in the inner chamber.

Burial Cairn Discovered

In 2017, archaeologists discovered the 4,000-year-old burial cairn, one of four, while conducting a geophysical survey around Bryn Celli Ddu, revealing that Bryn Celli Ddu was connected to an even larger prehistoric complex in the surrounding area.

We know that Bryn Celli Ddu sits in a much more complicated landscape than previously thought,” Ms Griffiths said at the time of the discovery. “Over the last three years, we have discovered 10 new rock art panels and this year the picture has developed to include further evidence for a new Bronze Age cairn along with a cluster of prehistoric pits. We have evidence for over 5,000 years’ worth of human activity in the landscape, ranging from worked flint derived from the tool-making efforts of our prehistoric ancestors to prehistoric burial cairns and pits with pottery deposited within.

Live Science reports that the burial mound under excavation sits about 50 meters (150 feet) from the famous passage tomb. University of Cardiff archaeologist Ffion Reynolds has said they are trying to identify the presence of human remains at the site.

Excavations underway at the burial mound next to Bryn Celli Ddu, researchers Danny Lee and Cameron Black

Excavations underway at the burial mound next to Bryn Celli Ddu, researchers Danny Lee and Cameron Black. Credit: Kerry Roberts

Links to the Mysterious Celtic Druids

The Welsh Island of Anglesey has a strong connection to the mysterious order of magical priests and sorcerers known as the Druids.

Druid comes from the Old Irish word druí meaning sorcerer. A druid was a Celtic ritual specialist from Britain, Ireland, Gaul (France), and other parts of Europe and Galatia during the Iron Age and possibly earlier in the Bronze Age. Very little is known about the ancient druids as they did not have a written language and written records about them carry a heavy anti-Celtic bias.

The oldest text mentioning druids comes from Julius Caesar in 50 BC in book VI of Commentary on the Gallic war. Caesar also describes how druids were concerned with divine worship and playing an essential role in Gaulish society, acting as both equites (a term meaning horseman which may equate to warrior) and judges.

Druids held many roles in Celtic society. They were healers and doctors, as shown by the presence of surgical instruments in their grave. They also served as fortune tellers and astrologers, as suggested by objects such as divining rods and the Coligny Calendar.

Illustration of a Celtic Druid

Illustration of a Celtic Druid. Credit: Erica Guilane-Nachez / Adobe Stock

First century AD Roman historian Tacitus recorded that Druids helped defend Anglesey during the Roman invasion of the island.

In 60 AD, the Roman general Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, determined to break the power of the druids, made a surprise vanguard assault on the island and proceeded to destroy shrines and sacred monuments.

Before completing his conquest, the Roman general received news of Celtic Queen Boudicca’s uprising against the Romans in England, causing him to withdraw from Anglesey.

In 78 AD, the Romans returned to Anglesey under Gnaeus Julius Agricola, and consolidated their conquest.

The dramatic history of Anglesey continued with Irish pirates, Scottish warlords, Welsh kings, Danish invaders, Viking raiders, Saxon conquerors, and Norman rulers, before falling to Edward I of England, and eventually becoming part of Britain.

Top image: Bryn Celli Ddu By Gail Johnson / Adobe Stock

By Joanna Gillan

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Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

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