Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Regional Historic Environment Record

Bedd Branwen Tumulus, Llanddeusant

Primary Reference Number (PRN) : 2088
Trust : Gwynedd
Community : Tref Alaw
NGR : SH36118497
Site Type (preferred type first) : Bronze Age BARROW
Legal Protection : Scheduled Ancient Monument

Summary :
Bedd Branwen round barrow takes its name from a Mabinogion tale. Branwen, daughter of Llyr, died of a broken heart, regretting the trouble she had caused between Welsh and Irish warriors. She was buried beside the river Alaw.

However the burial mound is far older than the Mabinogion. The central stone was erected in the late 3rd millennium BC. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the stone had stood for centuries as an independent monument before the burial mound was constructed around it in approximately 1400 BC. This mound (barrow) formed a cemetery for up to 12 people, who are presumed to have been wealthy due to the pottery and grave goods recovered, which included imported beads, amber and carved jet.

F. M. Lynch excavated the site in 1966 and demonstrated that the mound was of complex construction. Long after the stone had been erected, 3 urns with cremated bones and accompanying grave goods were buried. A wide ring of stone was built over the top. Then the area between the stone ring and the centre was filled with stone to create a cone-shaped bank. This was covered by the earthen mound, which extended out to a retaining kerb of boulders, some of which are still visible.

After the construction of the mound, at least 4 other cremation burials of similar style - and therefore probably similar date - were inserted into it. The arrangement of the burials and their personal belongings is interesting because not one person was given the central position in the mound. They were placed in a ring around the centre. This suggests equality despite the variations in personal wealth demonstrated by the goods accompanying each burial. No one was buried with a dagger, as is common in contemporary sites elsewhere in Britain.

Three smaller pots containing infant ear bones were buried alongside adults' urns. This curious practice has also been found on some other sites in Anglesey.

Description :
Bedd Branwen. <1>

In 1813 a cist was found in the centre containing an inverted MBA cinerary urn of enlarged food-vessel type with a cremation. It is probable, but not certain, that fragments of a beaker and the unburned bones of a young man came also from this cairn. The cremation was identified as a female, and site has been associated with the legendary square grave on the banks of the Alaw where Branwen was buried according to the Mabinogion. <2>

The remains of a round cairn about 120 yards in circumference and about 3ft high, the upper part having been removed. In the centre is a stone split in half, and the other stones are lying about. Condition poor. <3>

The barrow has recently been excavated. It is a multiple cist cairn with a cairn ring and at least seven contemporary burials which, on the evidence of grave goods, can be dated 1550-1400 BC. There is a central standing stone. <4>

Excavation Report. <5>

The beaker from Bedd Branwen is a western funnel-necked variant of late southern type, now in the British Museum. <6>

It has been assumed that Bedd Branwen was a Beaker Barrow, reused at a later period, and that both the primary and the secondary burials had been disturbed in 1813. However, recent large-scale excavation of the site failed to produce any evidence for a beaker burial and, moreover, it was clear that the entire barrow had been built at a date around 1400 BC contemporary with the urn burial. One must therefore conclude that the association of the Beaker and the urn was a mistake for which the chequered history of the urn between 1813 and 1834 gave ample opportunity. The mound is designed around the central stone, which must have existed as a monument in its own right. <7>

The excavation of the bronze-age burial mound produced three leaf-shaped flakes of flint and one microlith. The four pieces occurred in the turf, of which the actual mound was composed, their incorporation in the mound may well have been accidental. <8>

Samples associated with Bronze Age urns and other pottery from the excavation was subjected to Carbon 14 analysis. Charcoal from the central stone yielded a date of 4923 +/- 75 b.p. predating the construction of the barrow. <9>

Bedd Branwen is a typical ring cairn covered by a barrow. This type of cairn covering a series of burials is similar but not closely parallel to the Scottish enclosed cremation cemetery, the difference being that the barrow incorporates the ring cairn. <10>

SH 361 849; Bedd Branwen round cairn, scheduled. <11>

Round cairn 3, high surrounded by herb 70 yards in circumference. The site now appears as a grass mound about 20m across and 0.5m high with a hollow at the centre, out of which protrudes a standing stone 1.25m high by 0.75m x 0.75m which is split longitudinally. A number of kerb stones are visible around the outer edge. <12>

Well preserved ring cairn covered by a barrow and incorporating a central stone. Now visible as a somewhat uneven, flat-topped mound with a slight central depression a stone (1 x 0.8 x 0.7m) stone, split down the centre. Excavated by F. M. Lynch 1967. Setting: in a flat bottomed natural bowl c.1km across, partly formed by a valley beside a small stream and locally visible from all sides. <18>

Old HER records excavation in 1813, by an unknown individual. No further information available. <19>

The cremated remains of Richard Pierce, the former owner of the site, were deposited in a crack of the central stone of the cairn c.1970, according to the current owner. <21>

Sources :
Senior, M. , 2003 , The Standing Stones of north-western Wales
Ordnance Survey , 1963 , SH38SE , <1>
Stanley, W. O. & Way, A. , 1868 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <2>
Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments , 1937 , Anglesey , <3>
Lynch, F. , 1967 , <4>
Lynch, F. , 1966 , Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society , <5>
Clarke, D. L. , 1970 , Beaker Pottery in Great Britain and Ireland , <6>
Livens, R. G. , 1972 , Prehistoric Man in Wales and the West , <8>
Taylor, A. J. , 1980 , Prehistoric Wales , <9>
Lynch, F. , 1972 , Scottish Archaeology Forum , <10>
, 1981 , Ancient Monuments List Wales , <11>
Davidson, A. , 1986 , SAM A98 , <12>
Lynch, F. , 1971 , Archaeologia Cambrensis , <13>
Taylor, A. J. , 1980 , Culture & Environment in Prehistoric Wales , <16>
Lynch, F. , 1970 , Prehistoric Anglesey , <7>
Macinnes, L. , 1986 , PRN 2088 , <17>
Smith, G. , 2003 , Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Monument Survey: West Gwynedd & Anglesey , <18>
Williams, G. , 1988 , Standing Stones of Wales and South West England , <14>
Wilson, J. C. , 1983 , Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies , <15>
Steele, N. , 2009 , PRN 2088 , <19>
Darvill, T. , 1987 , Prehistoric Britain , <20>
Lynch, F. , 2011 , PRN 2088 , <21>

Events :
40782 : Hut Circle Settlement Survey (year : 1998)
42235 : Re-excavation of Two Bronze Age Cairns in Anglesey: Bedd Branwen and Treiorwerth (year : 1968)
40996 : C14 Dates (year : 1980)

Related PRNs :


The above data are supplied by GAT in partnership with its Local Authorities (Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd County Councils, and Snowdonia National Park Authority), © GAT 2014 (and in part © Crown, 2014 - as indicated)
This information is supplied for the purposes of personal interest only and may not be used as part of a commercial project.

September 22, 2014, 6:13 am - HTML file produced from Gwynedd Archaeological Trust Regional HER
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, Craig Beuno, Garth Road, Bangor, Gwynedd.  LL57 2RT
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