Long before it became known as Wales, our land was home to a succession of ancient peoples. And, from the time of Neanderthal man some 225,000 years ago through to the end of the Iron Age in AD 75, each has left its mark on the landscape of Wales.
Monuments such as Neolithic burial chambers, Bronze Age cairns and Iron Age hillforts act as tangible reminders of this distant past, and offer an insight into the lives of our mysterious ancient ancestors.
What? Neolithic burial chamber dating back to the late 3rd Millennium BC
A well known monument in Wales, this accessible and atmospheric burial chamber has a long and complex history.
Translating directly to ‘The Mound in the Dark Grove’, Bryn Celli Ddu is situated on the Isle of Anglesey and dates back to the late 3rd Millennium BC. The burial chamber sits within a landscape of prehistoric places on Anglesey, including ancient rock art and standing stones.
A beautifully decorated pattern stone was discovered at the back of the chamber during restoration which is now in the care of the National Museum of Wales. Visitors to the site can view an exact replica of the stone in its place.
Did you know..? Bryn Celli Ddu is the only tomb on Anglesey which is accurately aligned to coincide with the rising sun on the longest day of the year. At dawn on midsummer solstice (21 June), shafts of light from the rising sun penetrate down the passageway to light the inner burial chamber. Perhaps this sunlight was meant to bring warmth and life to the long buried ancestors?
Isle of Anglesey
What? Bronze Age copper mines uncovered in 1987
Around 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, this site echoed with the noise of mining on an industrial scale. The prize was copper – an essential ingredient in making bronze, the alloy that gave its name to this period of prehistory.
Since the site was found in the 1980s, archaeologists, engineers and cavers have continued to discover the vast range of tunnels and passages that make up this ancient mine.
Tours allow visitors to experience these prehistoric mine workings, including the amazing Bronze Age Cavern, dug out over 3,500 years ago by miners using only tools of stone and bone.
Did you know..? The Great Orme Copper Mines are the largest prehistoric mines in the world.
What? A Neolithic burial chamber
Where? Vale of Glamorgan
During excavation in 1914, the bodies of over 50 individuals from the Neolithic period were found in Tinkinswood Burial Chamber along with sherds of broken pottery and worked flint.
Constructed almost 6,000 years ago, the site stands upon a vast sloping valley in the Vale of Glamorgan – just over seven miles from the heart of Cardiff.
This area would have been very desirable during the Neolithic period. There is a stream nearby, good soil for growing crops and plenty of stone suitable for making tools.
Modern visitors can marvel at the tomb’s capstone which, at around 40 tonnes, weighs the same as an articulated lorry. It is one of the largest examples in Britain.
Did you know..? An ancient folk legend states that anyone who spends a night at this site before May Day, St John's Day (23 June) or Midwinter Day will either die, go mad, or become a poet.
Other prehistoric sites in south east Wales include:
What? Reconstructed Iron Age hillfort
Where? Meline, Pembrokeshire
Castell Henllys is the only Iron Age hillfort in Britain where you can truly experience what life was like for the Celtic people more than 2,000 years ago.
A visit here offers a unique insight into the lives of our ancestors, where you can huddle around a roundhouse fire to hear tales of old and grind flour to make bread on the very spot the Celts stood centuries ago.
Castell Henllys, in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, was redeveloped in 2014 with a cafe, exhibition, visitor centre and children’s play area.
Did you know..? The evocative roundhouses and granaries at Castell Henllys are reconstructed on the excavated remains of a real hilltop fort.