Rock art and rituals in a Neolithic passage grave
This late Neolithic passage grave sits on the highest point of a headland on the west coast of the island. What makes it particularly interesting and worth a visit is the rock art inside the tomb. However, the tomb yielded up another secret when it was excavated in the 1950’s – the remains of what has been described as a witch’s brew – a stew made from small animals, fish and reptiles ( ingredients listed above!).
Its name translates as ‘the giantess’s apronful’ and comes from a legend about a couple of giants who were walking to Anglesey to build a home and were carrying the stones with them. When the wife got exhausted after carrying the heavy stones in her apron she tipped them all out, creating the mound of stones that would have been visible on the headland before it was known to be a tomb.
After it was excavated, the tomb was restored and a mound reconstructed over it, so it is completely dark inside. A 9m long passage leads to a cruciform shaped chamber constructed from large orthostats, 6 of which are covered in rock art.
The most impressive stone is the one that stands at the entrance to the chamber but as you shine your torch around the tomb you begin to see the spirals, zigzags and chevron patterns on the other stones. Perhaps a representation of the entoptic images induced during their rituals and ceremonies?
Megalithic art tends to be found inside passage tombs and is very rare in any of the other types of prehistoric tombs. Also, the evidence of rituals taking place inside the tomb is also more evident in passage graves.
With its rock art and evidence of ritual, Barclodiad y Gawres has similarities with the passage graves in the Boyne valley in Ireland.
The central chamber has recesses on each side of it and the cremated remains of 2 young men were found in one recess and some traces of bones found in the others.
In the main chamber there was evidence of a large hearth containing a fire that had been kept burning for a long time. This is where the stew remains were found.
Wrasse, eel, frog, toad, grass snake, shrew, mouse and hare had been made into a stew and placed on the fire, probably to quench it. On top this, pebbles and limpet shells were placed. Pebbles and sometimes shells too, have been found in other passage graves and obviously had symbolic significance. Perhaps these objects and creatures were chosen because they belonged to the ‘other worlds’ of water, the night and the underground.
The chamber in Barclodiad y Gawres is kept locked and you used to be able to collect a key from the shop in Llanfaelog and go and look round it yourself. Unfortunately, after some vandalism, you now have to arrange for a member of staff at the shop to accompany you and this is only possible at weekends and bank holidays between April and October.
This is one of two reconstructed passage graves on Anglesey, the other one being Bryn Celli Ddu.