Perthi Duon (G-B): Mysterious copper artefact discovered at Neolithic tomb
Find at Perthi Duon excavation site near Brynsiencyn could prove existence of a British Copper Age says archeology expert.
Copper artefact found in an archaeological excavation at Perthi Duon on Anglesey. Photo courtesy of Dr George Nash.
The discovery of a mysterious copper artefact at a Neolithic tomb on Anglesey could help to answer one of archaeology’s burning questions.
Dr George Nash, who led the excavation at Perthi Duon near Brynsiencyn, says the find could lend weight to the idea of a British Copper Age, which is currently being debated by archaeologists.
Perthi Duon – described by Dr Nash as Anglesey’s “least known Neolithic chambered tomb” – is believed to have been a portal dolmen, a type of single-chamber tomb mostly built in the early Neolithic period, and dates to around 3,500BC or earlier.
Perthi Duon near Brynsiencyn, site of an excavation by the Welsh Rock Art Organisation.
The site was examined as early as 1723, when antiquarian Henry Rowlands visited and drew the tomb, which then stood upright.
Dr Nash, of Bristol University, said the monument was in a “ruinous” state by the early years of the nineteenth century and had been incorporated into a boundary hedge.
An international team of archaeologists from the Welsh Rock Art Organisation recently excavated the site and uncovered “several significant features”, said Dr Nash.
Among them was the “curious” copper artefact, which could be a piece of jewellery worn thousands of years ago.
Dr Nash said: “This item could be an important discovery which may reinforce the notion of a Copper Age in the British Isles. Copper items from the British Neolithic (c. 4,000 – 2,000BC) and Early Bronze Age (c. 2,500 – 1,800BC) are considered rare.”
Antiquarian plan of Perthi Duon near Brynsiencyn, dated 1802 and drawn by the Reverend John Skinner.
The Copper Age followed the Neolithic Era and is considered a part of the Bronze Age. The period is defined as a phase of the Bronze Age in which metallurgists had not yet discovered that bronze could be made by adding tin to copper.
While a Copper Age has long been recognised in Europe, the question of whether Britain experienced such a period is still debated by archaeologists.
Dr Nash said: “The big question in archaeology at the moment is whether there was a Copper Age in Britain.
“Did copper come to Britain before bronze?
“This discovery helps to suggest that we did have a Copper Age.”
The copper artefact will be subject to scientific testing in a bid to learn more about its origins.
Ploughing around the monument during the latter part of the 20th century caused “a lot of disturbance” to the archaeological remains, said Dr Nash.
However, other finds made at the site included areas of compacted stone which would once have formed a kidney-shaped mound around the chamber, and a rare circular stone socket which would have supported a kerbstone used to delineate the shape of the monument. Shards of pottery were also found.
Dr Nash said: “These discoveries clearly show this monument to be a portal dolmen, one of the earliest Neolithic monument types in Wales.
“More importantly, the architecture of Perthi Duon appears to be a blueprint for other portal dolmen monuments within what is termed the Irish Sea Province. From this excavation, we now have a better understanding of the burial and ritual practices that went on at this site some 5,500 years ago.”
In Neolithic times, the dead would have been deposited within the chamber as a cremation or, in later years, as disarticulated remains.