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Media signatureBronze Age grave reproduced on Minecraft
Take an archaeologist, a bored schoolgirl who lives by blocking coronaviruses, and a common interest in exploring ancient graves.
The result? One of the most important Bronze Age sites in Wales was rebuilt – in the video game Minecraft.
It is Dr. Ben Edwards from Wrexham and his daughter Bella, 11.
Her models from Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey are now shared with classrooms around the world.
The models can be loaded into Minecraft's block building universe and explored to learn more about the place, Neolithic life, and art.
The burial mound dates back to an estimated 5,000 years and has a so-called "passage grave" whose entrance to the summer solstice is perfectly aligned with the sun at dawn.
The old and the modern: Bryn Celli Ddu burial chamber for real – and in Minecraft
The passage tomb is directed towards the rising sun on the longest day of the year
Recent excavations on the site, including some from Manchester Metropolitan University archaeologist, Dr. Edwards showed that the burial chamber was built as a "henge".
Like Stonehenge, this was a ritual enclosure consisting of a bench around an inner trench surrounded by a circle of upright stones.
Dr. Edwards used these excavations together with researchers from the University of Central Lancashire and the historic environmental service Cadw in Wales to carefully replicate Bryn Celli Ddu in the video game.
It was then included in the educational edition of Minecraft, which is used worldwide to teach chemistry and computer coding.
You can now add ancient Welsh history to this list.
"I knew that Bella had access to the educational version of Minecraft at school near Wrexham, and I had access to it at my university.
"So for a while it was always in the back of my mind to do something in Minecraft," said Dr. Edwards, who has worked on other, more mature Bryn Celli Ddu computer models in the past.
"It was never a big priority, but then you are in the curfew, it is Easter vacation and you are teaching at home.
"I just said to Bella:" Should we have a crack? "
Minecraft / Cadw / MMU
Real geographic data was used to map the Minecraft virtual site
The game is famous for allowing players to build almost anything from graphics blocks and create huge worlds and playgrounds.
Although it may be a game, Dr. Edwards took the Bryn Celli Ddu approach seriously and used actual geographic map data to recreate the landscape for the Minecraft models.
It includes the tomb itself, as it might have appeared in the Bronze Age, along with other burial mounds and pits that have been discovered in recent years.
The rock painting recovered by Bryn Celli Ddu is also featured in the game alongside a model of what a nearby Neolithic house might have looked like.
According to Dr. Edwards found the burial mounds or house to be the most difficult to build.
"It planted the trees," he said.
Each had to be "planted" individually and bred by Bella and her father as part of the Minecraft world.
"Bella had to show me how to do many things because she uses it more than I do," admitted Dr. Edwards.
In the end, she agreed to the final version and said it was "very realistic".
"And she knows because she came to the digs too," added her father.
Minecraft / Cadw / MMU
A Neolithic settlement was rebuilt as part of the digital game project
Dr. Fwion Reynolds from Cadw said it was just children like Bella who would benefit from playing with the Minecraft model.
"We were looking for creative ways to give people a digital experience of Bryn Celli Ddu," said Dr. Reynolds, who would normally spend the summer months guiding local schools through the excavations.
"This was a way to continue our relationship with these schools and to give them the opportunity to visit the website digitally."
Due to corona virus restrictions, Cadw's locations across Wales are closed to the public, including Bryn Celli Ddu.
For the first time in years, those celebrating the summer solstice could not gather at the burial mound to experience the dawn phenomenon there.
"However, it gave us access to a special camera team, and we were able to capture the sunrise there with 360-degree films," added Dr. Reynolds added.
She said Cadw hoped to make the footage available in the near future and reopen the website to visitors.
In the meantime, those who have access to Minecraft at home or at school can now digitally visit the website – in safety.
Bryn Celli Ddu's Minecraft World can be downloaded free of charge for the Minecraft Education version of Hwb – the Welsh government resource website – and the Manchester Center for Public History and Heritage.
And for those looking for a more serious experience, Dr. Andrews and his colleagues behind an augmented reality app for Apple devices that can guide visitors through the real website as soon as it is open again.