Today, I’ve been working on a journal article about our public archaeology project which takes place at and around Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey each June. Bryn Celli Ddu is a Neolithic passage tomb, and is a unique site in Wales – as the passage is aligned to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. As the sun rises on this morning, a beam of light is cast down the narrow entrance lighting the chamber within.
Our project has developed around this moment in time, and over time, a collection of archaeologists, photographers, digital artists, storytellers and puppeteers have been brought together over the last two years to excavate and work in the landscape around Bryn Celli Ddu.
What we’ve discovered is that Bryn Celli Ddu does not sit in isolation, but is rather the centre of a complex multi-period landscape. This includes a series of late Neolithic/early Bronze Age rock art panels, eight of which have now been identified and recorded, probably at least two late Neolithic/early Bronze Age cairns in close proximity to the central passage tomb, several standing stones some of which are prehistoric, an early Neolithic causewayed enclosure, and a series of Iron Age hut platforms.
As an important early prehistoric landscape Bryn Celli Ddu attracts significant public interest; over 10,000 people visited the passage tomb in 2015, and the site is the focus of an active and engaged druid community including local Anglesey Druid Order members and people who travel significant distances to be present. At our open days over the last two years we have had 1,316 counted visitors, with additional school and sixth form college visits in both years.
A major element of our work has been to work alongside artists, and to use artistic processes ourselves, and to reflect on the archaeology from various standpoints.
Archaeologists have become geologists, discovering colourful materials such as the golden mica from the excavated test pits between the main passage tomb and the large rock art outcrop. At the time of Bryn Celli Ddu’s use, this stream would have been filled with this shimmering mica, iridescent, and sparkling in the light.
In the case of the rock art panels, executed on mica-rich blue schist, the material properties of the landscape were highlighted in another manner. Experimental rock art production has demonstrated the difference in colour saturation between the freshly executed motifs and the relatively rapid weathering of these marks.
We have also been inspired by the use of quartz in the construction of Bryn Celli Ddu, and later of the Bronze Age cairn discovered in this seasons excavation. Quartz and it’s turbolumiecent qualities were experimented with inside the chamber at Bryn Celli Ddu, creating these sparks of red, flashing in the darkness and producing a very memorable smell in the process.
All this information has been taken and linked back to the archaeology, the archaeology we excavate during our seasons of work, but also to those materials already in the stores at the National Museum back in Cardiff, including jasper and quartz pebbles – alongside the more characteristic flint tools.
What’s clear is that the Neolithic was far from dull, and the more we discover around Bryn Celli Ddu, the more we realise that the landscape is and was full of colour. Full of surprising performative, moving materials. Materials as media. Materials as moments.