The Tyddyn Bleiddyn Tumulus is something of a curiosity. Forlorn and ignored, the scant remains of this chambered long cairn are almost certainly an extremely rare example of a Cotswold-Severn type of megalithic monument, at least in this area of Wales. Its appearance here, in Denbighshire is genuinely surprising.
North East Wales is not known for its Neolithic megalithic tombs. There are in truth, very few compared with the rest of Wales. Why this is the case is much debated, since while North East Wales reached the Neolithic age no later than anywhere else in Wales, the penchant of the people of this era to build enormous monuments in stone seems to have quite escaped this area of Wales. However, we know there were people here, since some of the earliest dated remains of the existence of people in Wales can be found in nearby Dyserth, Hendre, Prestatyn and Rhuddlan, this from the Mesolithic age, and evidence of Neolithic farming in the region is extensive. And there is, of course the caves at Pontnewydd, within which the remains of Neanderthal-type people some 245 000 years old were found. Even more curious, is that Cotswold-Severn tombs are fairly rare everywhere in Wales, outside of their heartland in the south east of the country (they are, after all, called Cotswold Severn tombs for a reason). In fact, throughout North Wales there have only been three likely discoveries of this type of monument, and all of them it seems east of the River Conwy. Other than Tyddyn Bleiddyn, there is the stunning Capel Garmon example, and the remains of Tan y Coed at Cynwyd in the Dee Valley. What was going on?
Boyd Hawkins' believed the skeletons had genetic similarities, suggesting those buried were of the same family. Original drawings from, 'Cave Hunters' 1874
Reasons are purely speculative and will be until further evidence emerges. However, it is known that the prevalence of megalithic building seems to have followed the Atlantic sea routes, from the western seaboards of Spain and France, to south west England (where you will find stunning examples of portal dolmens) and on to south east Wales and north along the coast to Gwynedd and Anglesey. Both trade and ideas would have flowed from the peoples of the European continent, and that would have included the belief of remembering the dead in massive stone. North East Wales seems to have been something of a backwater, and the River Conwy something of a cultural barrier to megalithic building.
So why do we find some examples of such building in North East Wales? Well, who knows? It is as likely as not to have been the work of migrants from the south or west (most likely in the case of Cotswold Severn examples, from the south), moving into the fertile valleys of the Elwy and Dee, bringing their culture with them, along with their hopes and ambitions. And this meant remembering their dead as they always had, in chambered tombs. What impression this may have had on the peoples who had lived in this area for generations cannot be said, but the parallels with the present cannot be escaped, and the fear that small minded people have of others.
It is likely that the tomb at Tyddyn Bleiddyn had been known of for hundreds of years before it was brought to the attention of Boyd Dawkins, the renowned geologist and archaeologist. In 1869 the cist of the tomb was still in situ when it was opened by the tenant, and a great number of crouched burials were found. Boyd Dawkins was heavily involved in the excavation of the chamber and believed that there were twelve bodies within, which clearly suggests that the cairn was reused over time, since that number is far too many to have been placed at one time. From the remains, it seems none of the bodies would have stood taller than 5 feet 6 inches. Boyd Dawkins felt that the chamber belonged to a family, since he believed he could identify similarities in the skeletons he found. It is possible that the tomb was actually the product of a small community, perhaps that of the peoples that originally moved north looking for better things. Indeed, current thinking would suggest that the Cotswold Severn type of tomb was constantly re-opened with further bodies interred, possibly more so than in other megalithic tombs. Was this a factor in the type of tomb that was often chosen? Certainly, the landscape is very ancient, given its location near the Bontnewydd Cave, a fact that Boyd Hawkins did not fail to appreciate.
Today, it exists as a reminder of an ancient people, and asks questions as to how the living made sense of death. The fact that we are still asking those questions today, tells us much about our ancestors and how we are not ourselves as different as we may think.
Boyd Hawkins original drawing of the tomb from the 1869 excavation, as detailed in his book, 'Cave Hunters' 1874
A good way to see how forlorn Tyddyn Bleiddyn has become in the several thousands years since its raising, is to compare it with a similar Cotswold-Severn tomb, namely the Capel Garmon chambered tomb in the Conwy Valley, itself having lost much of its substance. But, though reduced to rubble in this Cefn field, it is still possible to trace the outline of the tomb. A near lost wonder.