Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Cambrensis 1847

Archaeologia Cambrensis 1847 is in Archaeologia Cambrensis.

Cromlech at Bryn Celli Ddu [Map], Anglesey.

This is one of the most interesting remains of the kind still extant within the isle of Anglesey ; not only on account of its size and form, but also for its antiquarian history, and its preservation. It is situated on the farm of Bryn Celli ddu, belonging to the Marquis of Anglesey, not a great way from Plas Gwyn, the seat of C. Evans, Esq., of Ilén Blas, and now stands in the middle of an open field near the farm- house. A most gratifying circumstance connected with it, and which may be mentioned at once, is, that Mr. Evans, fully aware of its value as a Celtic monument, has given orders for surrounding it with a suitable fence, so that its farther decay may be retarded as much as possible.

Before going into any description of its present condition, we will quote the first account that has been met with concerning it. This was given by Rowlands, in his Mona Antiqua, p. 93, where, after alluding to various monuments of the same kind in this part of the island, he observes, — "There are also in Llandeniel parish, at a place formerly called Llwyn Llwyd, now Bryn Kelli, the remains of two carnedds, within a few paces of one another: the one is somewhat broken and pitted into on one side, where the stones had been carried away ; the other having had its stones almost all taken away into walls and hedges, with two standing columns erected between them."

Two engravings are given by him of these remains, which, however, being executed in the rude manner of his day, convey no farther idea of these carneddau than that the stones of which they were composed were all visible, and that they were not then covered with earth or turf. The work of destruction had, in fact, even then begun.

The next account given of this spot is by Pennant, in his Tour, vol. ii , p. 262, and in the following words:—"A few years ago, beneath a carnedd similar to that at Tregarnedd, was discovered, on a farm called Bryn-celli-ddu, near the seat of Sir Nicholas Bayley, a passage three feet wide, four feet two or three inches high, and about nineteen feet and a half long, which led into a room, about three feet in diameter and seven in height. The form was an irregular hexagon, and the sides composed of six rude slabs, one of which measured in its diagonal eight feet nine inches. In the middle was an artless pillar of stone, four feet eight inches in circumference. This supports the roof, which consists of one great stone near ten feet in diameter. Along the sides of the room was, if I may be allowed the expression, a stone bench, on which were found human bones, which fell to dust almost at a touch: it is probable, that the bodies were originally placed on the bench. There are proofs that it was customary with the Gauls to place their dead in that form in cells: but, they added to the head of each body a stone weapon, which served as a pillow; but nothing of the kind was discovered in this sepulchre. The diameter of the incumbent carnedd is from ninety to a hundred feet. This seems to be that which Mr. Rowlands takes notice of in his Mona Antiqua."

It may be inferred from the above accounts, the latter of which is also given by King, in his Munimenla Antiqua, that in Rowlands's time, the larger of the two carneddau had not been opened so as to allow of the inner chamber being discovered: that in Pennant's time, the smaller of the carneddau had disappeared, together with the upright columns, or Meini Ilirion, mentioned by Rowlands; but that the larger carnedd was still tolerably perfect, though the chamber had been opened and ransacked. At the present day ( 1846,) the appearance of the monument is exactly that given in the plate, as seen from the south east: and the tradition preserved on the spot is, that the stones have been removed at difförent times, to make or to repair walls.

All traces of the carnedd have disappeared except the earth and stones that still lie on the cromlech, where a tree had taken root, but is now withered and dead ; and, also, on the top of the passage leading to the chamber. The ground, however, rises all around, making the base of a tumulus that now would measure not more than sixty-five or seventy feet across; and, the occurrence of a large stone on the outer circumference of this rise, would lead to the conjecture that originally it was surrounded by a circle of such blocks. The passage which led from the outside to the chamber within, runs from east to west, and now measures not more than eighteen feet in length, by about three feet in height, and two feet six inches in breadth: it is composed of six large stones on the northern, and five on the southern side ; but on the latter, several stones are built in, exactly as is now done in the common stone fences of the country. The sides of the chamber or cromlech, which is correctly described as "irregularly hexagonal," are composed of single stones of the width of five feet four inches, four feet, six feet, four feet, and six feet respectively, allowing a space of only twenty inches for the entrance, which with a stone twenty-one inches wide, makes up the sixth side. The upper stone forming part of the roof, is eleven feet long, by six feet six inches wide, and fifteen inches thick. There was a second stone, placed in rather a slanting position on the northern side, which also made part of the roof, and is of rather smaller dimensions than the former. This has now fallen off, and lies upon another by the side of the rest. The central pillar, spoken of by Pennant, lies prostrate in the middle of the chamber. The soil has accumulated within, and no traces of the "stone bench" are now observable. The upper stone, like many other smaller ones which formed part of the carnedd, is of grit; all the others are of chloritic schist ; both sorts of stone being found within no great distance from the spot.

This monument forms a striking example of the gradual disinterment of similar remains: and, had the neighbouring peasants only removed the stones of the carnedd a little quicker, we mio•ht have heard it described, perhaps, as an altar, while the ruins of the passage would have been considered as the steps leading up for purposes of sacrifice. It also shews how fatally, but surely, the hand of man anticipates that of time; and, that the worst enemy of man's works, is man himself.

At the present moment, the upper stone rests on only three exceedingly small points of support ; and these are very likely to give way by the mere efföct of the weathering, when the whole will fall into ruin. We would, therefore, respectfully suggest to Mr. Evans, who has, in so praiseworthy a spirit, taken steps for its preservation, that some method should be adopted — and this would not be diffcult — for preventing this catastrophe.