Origins: Anglesey's Earliest History
© Hawlfraint y Goron (2012) Croeso Cymru / Crown copyright (2012) Visit Wales
Fire and ice forged the Isle of Anglesey. Today on its shores
you can still touch rocks spewed from primeval volcanoes over 600
million years ago. These are some of the oldest rocks in all of
England and Wales.
After the lava cooled, oceans covered the land, until the
Earth's plates moved again, twisting and folding the rocks into
complex forms. Later glaciers, huge rivers of ice, carved out the
hills and valleys we see today.
The oldest human remains in Wales are Neanderthal,
coming from the Pontnewydd cave in Denbighshire and dating from
about 230,000 years ago, but no people remained during the big
freeze of the last glacial period.
By about 10,000 BC the world was
warming up again, and the glaciers melted. Pine and birch now grew
in North Wales, and by about 6,000 BC alder and hazel.
Rising sea levels gradually filled the Menai Strait, rendering
Anglesey an island. Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers camped along
the shoreline. They left behind finely crafted weapons of flint,
wood and bone.
By about 4000 BC the island's first settlers came. They planted
on the more fertile soils and slowly, with stone axes, began to
clear the forests. During the New Stone Age, these settlers built
enduring monuments. They moved large rocks, to create both standing
stones like those at Penrhos Feilw and burial chambers, like those
at Lligwy, Barclodiad y Gawres, and Trefignaeth.
They knew the seasons and the stars
What can these sites
tell us about the people who built them? At Bryn Celli Ddu, a
stone henge monument that was later covered by an earthen mound,
archae-ologists have discovered that the passage is perfectly
aligned to catch the first rays of the midsummer sun. So we know
that the islanders, even 4,300 years ago, already understood
something of the spinning Earth they lived on.
We also know from how they decorated the monument that they were
exchanging goods and ideas with people as far away as Orkney and
In about 2000 BC metal objects begin to appear. At Parys
Mountain, near Amlwch, islanders began mining copper. Then they
mixed the molten copper with tin (brought in, most likely, all the
way from Cornwall) to make the strong, durable alloy called bronze,
which was then cast in moulds to create axes, spearheads, and
Trading across the sea -- metals, goods and
A trading network developed across the
Irish Sea and down the Atlantic coast to Spain. The Bronze Age
islanders prospered. At burial sites they left pottery, bronze
axes, spearheads, tools, and beads of jet and amber.
Iron is harder and tougher than bronze, and its manufacture
spread across Europe, arriving in Wales by about 800 BC. With the
Iron Age came a culture that historians would later call
Some continental peoples did invade and settle parts of Britain,
but it seems likely that the Celtic way of life was spread
primarily through trade and absorbed by native populations over a
long period. Large hillforts dominated Anglesey in the Iron Age.
You can still see their remains at Caer y Twr high on Holyhead
mountain, Dinas Gynfor on the north coast, and Din Silwy at Bwrdd
Arthur, in the east. These may have been centres of rule,
refuges in time of war, or places to trade or store grain.
Islanders lived in
thatched 'roundhouses', built from timber and stone or
clay, like those evident at Din Lligwy. Farmers ploughed
the land with a simple iron-plated pole called an ard. They
harvested with a sickle and used grinding stones called querns to
make flour. They raised sheep, cattle and pigs, and wove
The surviving archaeological evidence from across Wales suggests
that people lived in dispersed farmsteads, with local community
life circulating around focal hillforts.
The Iron Age Celts worshipped spirits, gods and goddesses
related to the land and the water, so groves of oak trees, springs,
and rivers were sacred sites. For hundreds of years, people came
from across Britain to give offerings to the gods at one small
Anglesey lake, called Llyn Cerrig Bach. Into the lake they threw
their most valuable possessions: iron swords, spears, bronze
ornaments, trumpets, iron bars, cauldrons, tongs, horse harnesses,
and parts of chariots. All these items were discovered in peat near
the lake during World War II, when the RAF extended its runways at
nearby Valley. The Llyn Cerrig Bach deposits probably date from
about the third century BC to the second century AD.
-- by Philip Steele