The fascinating ages of Din Lligwy- Megalithic, Roman and Mediaeval.
Anglesey, as most people know, is a place rich in the remains of prehistory. But even on an island famed for its evocative ancient sites, Din Lligwy is something special.
It's a walled settlement, standing on an eminence a little way outside the popular tourist village of Moelfre, on the north east coast of the island. It sits within a mature grove of Sycamore, Ash and Hawthorn trees, which allow the light to gently dapple the bright white limestone blocks making up the remains.
Din Lligwy was excavated in 1905-7 by Edward Neil Baynes- in those days, excavation techniques were slightly clumsier than they are today, with subsequent technological and cultural advances in the science. But nevertheless, significant quanties of Roman material were recovered, mostly of the late third-fourth century AD. The remains here have been consolidated for public display- at the time we visited, (March 2019) some of the found artefacts were on display at the excellent Oriel Ynys Mon at Llangefni.
However, Neolithic flints have been found here, although we don't know at what horizon within the excavations they were located. But the presence of another feature nearby, the Din Lligwy burial chamber, makes it more than likely that this site was in some kind of use then.
The interpretation board at the site suggests that the village may have been in use during the later roman period, explaining the outer wall- the Roman influence was waning and chaos was beginning to descend on the land. We can't be certain. What we do know was that there were settlements here before Roman times that may have been consolidated...more remains lie outside the perimeter including a hut and stones which may be the remains of enclosures. This would suggest that the site was a locus for agricultural activity and fits in with the idea that this place was associated with a person of power and wealth, not a Roman. While the round huts would have gone out of fashion by 4AD, it may be that they were a return to the old pre-Roman ways. One hut base is larger, this is at the top of the enclosure and would have been the high-status dwelling. Excavations in this hut found Roman coins, pottery and a glass jug, as well as a silver ingot.
Other (square) huts were used as workshops- here large amounts of metallic slag, as well as remains of several hearths with charcoal formed from oak were found. It was evidently a workshop for the smelting and working of iron. The original entrance to the fortified compound was through a gap next to the external building.
The unanswered question here for me is: where did the ore that they were smelting come from? The nearest iron deposit was at Llandyfrydog Quarry, Llanerchymedd on Anglesey at SH451861, and there are other iron mines on Anglesey as well. Of course, this site is relatively close to the sea- perhaps ore was brought by boat, along with other high value items- in which case the ore could have come from Europe. We don't know for sure, but it is a fascinating thought.
The Burial Chamber
Not far from the settlement is the Neolithic burial chamber of Din Lligwy, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. This is an impressive reminder of the determination and capability of the Neolithic peoples, since the capstone is thought to weigh 25 tons!
This site was also excavated in 1908, when the remains of 15-30 people were found. Along with them were pieces of beaker and grooved ware pottery that provide evidence for the age of this tomb. It is from the end of the Neolithic period and so was among the last of these types of tombs in use.
The interpretation board reminds us that this tomb was covered over with stones and earth- I wonder where all that went to? Taken by farmers for rubble, perhaps. The sides of the gigantic capstone are marked with lines where the stone was hewn. It's not clear, of course, where the stone could have come from, but it was quarried and shaped. A little awe-inspiring to think that these tooling marks were made by men from such a long time ago- that really brought home to me the significance of this place.
The chambered tomb is nowadays surrounded by railings, the gate is locked but doesn't seem to preclude visits from sheep. The railings do spoil the atmosphere for photographers a little.
Hen Capel Lligwy
Nearby, to the north east of the settlement is a ruined chapel. This, perhaps, offers some clues as to the prosperity and population of the area in prehistory. Originally, this would have been a wooden church, but it is thought that in the middle of the C12 AD, (with the raids on Anglesey by Vikings becoming rare), many places of worship were rebuilt in stone.
We know that this chapel was first built in stone in the 12th century, but the upper parts of the walls were reconstructed in the 14th century. A small chapel, with a crypt underneath, was added in the 16th century. There is a small "borrow pit" nearby where stone was quarried to build the church. It's also possible to make out from the walls where repairs have taken place, as different types of limestone have been used.
The interesting point here is that the settlements that surrounded the church were probably made from wood- the area was likely to have been much busier than today, but most traces of the hut dwellers have gone. Populations moved away, and the wood from their dwellings was burnt as fuel by those who remained.
Locating the sites- and parking.
Din Lligwy Settlement is at Map Ref: SH4970286134
Burial Chamber- Map Ref: SH50138604
Both are Landranger Map Number: 114
The site is signed from the roundabout on the A5108 at Llanalgo. Coming from Moelfre, it is a right turn. Turning along this road, the Burial Chamber is seen first on the left- a small lay by offers parking for one car here. A quarter of a mile further on and there is parking for three/four cars at a layby - the chapel can be seen clearly, and the settlement is in the woods to the south east.
I am indebted to my friend Dave Linton for pointing out to me that iron ore could have come from Anglesey- and for his diligence generally!
Lynch, F. 1995. Gwynedd: A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales, Cardiff: Cadw
Yates, M. J. and Longley, D. 2001. Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey, Cardiff: Cadw. P30.
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