Minecraft: Lockdown lesson recreates ancient island tomb
Take an archaeologist, a bored student who lives through the coronavirus block and a shared interest in exploring ancient tombs.
The result? One of the most important Welsh Bronze Age sites has been recreated in the Minecraft video game.
It is the result of Dr. Ben Edwards, of Wrexham, and his daughter Bella, 11 years old.
Their Bryn Celli Ddu models on Anglesey are now shared with classes around the world.
Models can be loaded into the Minecraft universe that builds blocks and can be explored to learn more about the site, Neolithic life and art.
The mound dates back to about 5,000 years ago, with its so-called “passage tomb” whose entrance perfectly aligns with the sun at the dawn of the summer solstice.
More recent excavations on the site, including some by Manchester Metropolitan University archaeologist Edwards himself, have revealed that the burial chamber was built as a “henge”.
Like Stonehenge, this was a ritual enclosure consisting of a shore around an internal moat, enclosed in a circle of vertical stones.
Dr Edwards used those excavations, together with work with researchers from the University of Central Lancashire and the historic Cadw environmental service of Wales, to scrupulously recreate Bryn Celli Ddu in the video game.
It was therefore incorporated into the educational edition of Minecraft, which is used worldwide to give lessons on any topic, from chemistry to computer coding.
Now you can add ancient Welsh history to that list.
“I knew that Bella had access to the educational version of Minecraft at school here, near Wrexham, and I had access to it in my university.
“So, for a while, I’ve always been in my head to do something in Minecraft,” said Dr. Edwards, who has worked on Bryn Celli Ddu’s other older computer models in the past.
“It was never a huge priority, but then you’re stuck, it’s Easter holidays and you’re going to school at home.
“I just said to Bella, ‘Should we have a crack in this?'”
The game is famous for players who are able to build almost anything from graphic blocks, creating huge worlds and playing fields.
Although it may be a game, dr. Edwards took the approach to Bryn Celli Ddu seriously and used real geographic mapping data to recreate the landscape for Minecraft models.
It includes the tomb itself, as it may have appeared in the Bronze Age, and alongside it other mounds and burial pits discovered in recent years.
Rock art recovered by Bryn Celli Ddu is also represented in the game, along with a model of how a Neolithic house might look nearby.
According to dr. Edwards, the most difficult thing to build was not the mounds or the house.
“He was planting trees,” he said.
Each had to be individually “planted” and cultivated 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,” confessed Dr. Edwards.
In the end, he approved the final version and said it was “very realistic”.
“And you know, because she used to come to the excavations too,” added his father.
Cadw’s Dr. Ffion Reynolds said that children like Bella would benefit from playing with the Minecraft model.
“We were looking for creative ways to offer people a digital Bryn Celli Ddu experience,” said Dr. Reynolds, who normally spent the summer months organizing guided tours of excavations in local schools.
“This was a way to continue our relationship with those schools and offer them a way to” visit “the site digitally.”
Coronavirus restrictions mean that Cadw sites across Wales have been closed to the public, including Bryn Celli Ddu.
It also meant, for the first time in years, that those celebrating the summer solstice were unable to gather on the mound to witness the dawn phenomenon there.
“However, it allowed us to log in with a special film crew and we were able to capture the sunrise there with 360 degree footage,” added Dr. Reynolds.
He said Cadw hoped to make filming available in the very near future, as well as reopen the site for visitors.
In the meantime, those who have access to Minecraft at home or school can now visit the site digitally, safely.
The Bryn Celli Ddu Minecraft world can be downloaded for free for the version of Minecraft Education from Hwb, the Welsh government teaching resource site, and also from the Manchester Public History and Heritage Center.
And for those looking for a more serious experience, dr. Andrews and his colleagues are behind an augmented reality app available for Apple devices, which can guide visitors to the real site once it reopens.