The Anglesey Rock-Art Project

Abby George, Ellie McQueen, John Swann & Laurie Waite from Bristol University along with George Nash and Adam Stanford from Archaeology Safaris made a new discovery during the weekend of 25 – 27 June 2004.


Archaeology Safaris runs field trips and field schools for anyone interested in Archaeology, with the aim raising the funding required to conduct original research, as well as providing an educational and outreach service. On some of the field trips there is an opportunity to carry out field work, particularly when there is a need to survey areas for rock-art. In many areas of the British Isles there is still a significant amount of Rock-Art which is yet to be recorded or indeed where already known, needs to be recorded in more detail. This field work and the resulting data is part of a wider analysis and understanding of the Rock-Art phenomenon, within its north west European context.

During a field trip to Anglesey in 2004, with some of the part-time Prehistory Diploma students from Bristol University, a panel of previously un-recorded cup-mark style rock-art was discovered. Due to the important nature of this new discovery a research plan was drawn up and the Anglesey Rock-Art Project was set up. The project members and volunteers have returned to Anglesey on a number of occasions since June 2004 and have discovered other panels elsewhere on the island. The project has also drawn on the expertise and knowledge of other rock-art specialists in order to gain comparisons from similar panels in other parts of Wales, the Isle of Man and Cumbria. Therefore acknowledgment and thanks should go to the following: Dr George Nash (Bristol University) Tim Darvill (Bournemouth University) Jenny Woodcock (Liverpool University) Kate Sharpe (Durham University) and the members and participants of the British Rock Art Group Conference 2005. The ARAP members are as follows: Students at Bristol University; Abby George, Ellie McQueen, John Swann & Laurie Waite, George Nash , Adam Stanford and various other volunteers who take part in the field work.

Discovery of Cup-Marks at Bryn Celli Ddu

Evidence from the field trips to various concentrations of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) monuments within the British Isles (including, Jersey and the Isle of Man) and Ireland it was clear that there is an association with the monuments for the dead and the cup-mark rock-art tradition. Either with their ornamentation on the monuments while still in use or later additions to special places by the descendants of the monument builders, who had moved on in beliefs and ritual activity, or indeed were a tradition which was practised throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

It was our previous experience of looking at Burial Chamber and other megalithic monuments, with cup-marks on or near them, which led us to suspect there was a possibility of finding them where they were previously not known. During the 2004 field trip to Anglesey, our aim was to visit a number of the monuments on the island and in particular the catchment areas of Neolithic burial chamber monuments. On the first afternoon and we were able to visit Plas Newydd (ANG 9) and Bryn yr Hen Bobl (ANG 8). While at the last site of the day; Bryn Celli Ddu (ANG 7), we decided to have a closer look at one of the nearby standing stones in the next field and then proceeded to the large natural rock outcrop which is also located in the same field and is 200m west of the passage grave. We decided to have a closer look at the outcrop because of its similar size and landscape position as the main monument and that it seemed a very likely location for rock-art. We checked around the sides which were almost vertical, but nothing was visible. Abby George was the first to clamber to the top 3 metres up, where-upon a number of shallow cup-marks could clearly be seen. This was an exciting moment for us all as we searched the fairly flat top of the outcrop and slowly counted up to 27 cup-marks.

On further investigation during that field trip and another research trip a few months later; we looked in more detail at the 27 cup marks on the natural rock outcrop. This was an important discovery both in their isolation – being the only cup marks on Anglesey then known on a natural feature – and in their proximity to one of the most important Neolithic monuments on Anglesey. The cup-marks and the natural feature on which they were pecked can be considered one of the most important late Neolithic/EBA features, within the monuments catchment of Bryn Celli Ddu.

· We conducted a more thorough walking survey of the area.

· A detailed, measured drawing of the cup marked panel on top of the rock outcrop.

· GPS positioning of key points within the catchment and on the rock outcrop itself.

· A detailed survey of the cup marks, where each was described, measured and numbered. We designed a classification system A B or C – A being the most distinct and clear. Most of the 27 cup marks fell into the A & B catagories.

The Bryn Celli Ddu Catchment Area

Anglesey forms a large island off the north west coast of Wales, which has a large concentration of Neolithic monuments, consisting of at least 14 burial chambers, numerous standing stones, etc…

The Bryn Celli Ddu monument, is one of two known passage graves on Anglesey, it can be considered one of the most important Neolithic monuments on the island. Located on a low ridge of a glacial moraine at around 33m AOD and close to the Menai Straits, it has extensive views of the Snowdonia peaks.

Within the catchment of BCD, there are;

· 2 standing stones

· a cairn, now destroyed

· a henge

· findspots of flint, polished stone axes and a bronze palstave

Also many rock outcrops, although smaller than the cup marked one and a couple of areas with field systems and the remains of circular huts.

All in all – 12 sites recorded on the SMR and RCAHMW, 8 of which are confirmed as late Neolithic or EBA in date.

Passage-Grave Art on Anglesey

There are good examples of other forms of rock art both at BCD, with the pattern stone at the centre of the henge, behind the mound. A replica of the original now stands in its place, but the extensive decoration is clearly visible. Also at Barclodiad-Y-Gawes. Five decorated stones can be found in the passage and chamber area, preserved under a concrete canopy and reconstructed mound. The passage-grave art such as that found on Anglesey.

Cup-Marks at Cromlech Farm

Details of the discovery of Cup-marks on the collapsed burial chamber and on nearby natural rock outcrops will follow soon...


Comparisons with other areas

As part of this ongoing project to find and record rock-art evidence on Anglesey, comparisons could be made with similar sites on the Isle of Man and elsewhere on Anglesey. To this end during the field trips to Anglesey, Isle of Man and Cumbria there is the opportunity for all to take part in field work activities such as: field walking surveys, measured drawing and assessment of the cup marked panels and GPS positioning.

However the cup marks at BCD are placed onto a natural feature in the landscape, as are many in other parts of Britain. Yorkshire to the east for example where many are being found on a weekly basis, by local enthusiasts.

A few examples from the west and perhaps within the communication/trade area of Anglesey during the Neolithic and EBA:

· Beckstones in Cumbria – On a natural glacially smoothed outcrop of rock and partially quarried away. This site is possibly a marker along a prominent route along the side of the valley.

· The Caldetsone in Liverpool – Although these are part of a now destroyed burial chamber, many of the highly decorated stones (now housed in a geenhouse) display random cup marks.

· Cashtal yn Ard on the Isle of Man – At the entrance of the passage from the fourcourt are 5 or 6 cup marks which form an arc – faint but definitely present and can be seen with the right light. A site we will be looking at each time we visit the Isle of Man.

Isle of Man Field-Work

Details of this field work will follow soon...

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