Schoolchildren have been able to explore an ancient prehistoric tomb in Wales after it was recreated by archaeologists inside hit computer game Minecraft.

Dr Seren Griffiths and Dr Ben Edwards from Manchester Metropolitan University, with Dr Ffion Reynolds of Cadw – the Welsh Government’s historic environment service ­– are leading the project to create an interactive, virtual tour of Bryn Celli Ddu, that allows young people to explore one of the most impressive Neolithic burial monuments in the British Isles.

It is part of revised plans from the Bryn Celli Ddu public archaeology landscape project, which has been working with the local community on the island of Anglesey in Wales over the last five years to unearth the tomb and its surrounding landscapes.

All the planned events have now been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic and it forced the team to create digital content instead for pupils and parents stuck at home due to the lockdown.

The tomb has been created in a world inside the Minecraft computer game, an almost limitless interactive block-based environment in which anyone with the right knowledge can build their own structures and earthworks to be accessed and enjoyed by other players.  

Public involvement

Dr Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Heritage and Archaelogy, said: “The whole ethos of our work at Bryn Celli Ddu has been public involvement in archaeology and bringing school children to the site to directly experience the process of excavating, so it was a huge disappointment to cancel our on-site work, schools tours and open days this year.

“It was really important to us to continue our connection with the local schools and create digital content to help teachers in this really difficult time, which is why we created a Welsh as well as English version.

“My primary school-age daughter was using Minecraft for her online schoolwork during lockdown, so I was inspired – with her technical help – to build a digital version of the prehistoric landscape. It also gave me the freedom to reconstruct the landscape as it would have looked in the Neolithic, right down to accurate hills, trees and rivers – something we had never done before.”

The ancient passage tomb in Wales was used as a location for burial around 3000BC, but the site and the surrounding landscape have a much longer history, with more than 10,000 years of human activity.

The Minecraft world takes the viewer on a journey through the Bryn Celli Ddu landscape, with its main passage tomb, the cairn cemetery, rock art panels and Neolithic house based on evidence at Llanfaethu in Anglesey, Wales.

My primary school-age daughter was using Minecraft for her online schoolwork during lockdown, so I was inspired – with her technical help – to build a digital version of the prehistoric landscape.

The new Bryn Celli Ddu Minecraft experience has now been made available by the Welsh Government, through its Hwb Cymru schools portal, which provides free access for schoolchildren to the Education Edition of Minecraft, a version of the game that complements what is being taught in the classroom.

Schools across the UK can download the world onto their Education Editions of Minecraft and allow pupils to access the experience.

To download the World for your version of Minecraft, and for more information on the project visit the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage website.

The Bryn Celli Ddu public archaeology landscape project is led by the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, Cadw, and Manchester Metropolitan University. Visit Dr Reynolds’ project blog to find out more about the project.

Dr Griffiths will also be talking about the project on Radio 3’s Free Thinking at 10pm and the Smithsonian Channel’s Mystic Britain at 8pm on June 23.