bryn celli ddu

bryn celli ddu is a late neolithic passage grave in the european atlantic tradition, excavated and partly restored in 1920s (hemp 1930). it comprises an outer circular stone kerb c. 26m diameter, with an inner stone arc, both of which encircle a simple passage tomb whose entrance lies on the east side. hemps’ original hypothesis, that the tomb was built within a ruined henge, is nowadays seen as problematic. in 1865 bryn celli ddu was first explored seriously, though it was only in 1928 that a thorough excavation was conducted at the site. at the end of the excavation in 1929, some of the structures were repositioned.

the c.7m long inturned 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, or a phallic symbol. one of the chamber stones bears a small spiral carving which is probably neolithic.


bryn celli ddu sits at the heart of a ritual landscape, with 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 carvings has similarities with the passage tomb of barclodiad y gawres on western anglesey (nprn 95545).


bryn celli ddu may be translated as ‘the mound in the dark grove’, and some have speculated that during its time of construction, it was located in a large clearing then surrounded entirely forest. archaeologists have suggested that the original stone circles were set up during the neolithic period , around 3000 bc.

bryn celli ddu architecture and purposean outer circular bank and an inner ditch encircled the area, which was originally 21 meters (69 feet) in diameter, and defined the parameters of the monument. today, only the inner ditch is still visible. within the bank and ditch was a ritual enclosure that included a circle of standing stones. some of these stones have survived till today.

the function of bryn celli ddu changed at the end of the neolithic, around a thousand years after it was built. it became a passage tomb, a type of burial monument found around the irish seaboard. some of the standing stones were seemingly deliberately destroyed, and a mound was built over the ritual enclosure. within the mound was a polygonal stone chamber that was reached via an 8 meter long passageway. in the passage, within the chamber, both burnt and unburnt human bones have been found as well as pieces of quartz, flint arrowheads, a stone bead, and limpet and mussel shells. 

in a ceremonial pit at the back of the chamber,  a carved stone with a serpentine design was discovered. believed to be the remains of a petrified tree trunk. the burial mound would have also had a retaining wall built around it that stretched about 25 meters (82 feet) on each side.
the passage tomb thought for some time to be a later alteration to the stone circle,  may be giving way to the idea that the stone circle and the passage tomb co-existed at the same time, and that the former could have been erected as a ritual boundary outside of the latter. it has ben now been established bryn celli ddu is accurately aligned to coincide with the rising sun on the summer solstices.  the rays of light that were recently recorded penetrating down the passage way into the burial chamber,