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The Big Questions: Who built the monuments and where did they come from?

Megalithic monuments are central to debates about the peopling of Neolithic Scotland for two principal reasons. Firstly, similar forms of monuments and shared styles of artefacts in different regions of northwest Europe suggest cultural inter-action and potentially human movement between such regions. For example, the earliest megaliths in Scotland may provide us with evidence of important links with Brittany. An important theme is also the link between regions such as south-west Scotland and Orkney with the building of similar monuments in Ireland. Our project will be the first for several decades to re-evaluate the architecture and typology of Scottish monument types and situate them in a wider perspective (Priority 1A).

Secondly chambered tombs contain the remains of people, providing us with the most direct evidence we have of Neolithic people. The ability to extract detailed biological and cultural information from inhumed, but also cremated, human remains is providing important insights into the question of who the monument builders were and where they came from. Issues of origin, status, succession and inheritance will be explored in our project through DNA, radionuclide and macro-molecule analysis of human and animal remains. In parallel with newly recovered artefactual material, re-analysis of artefact assemblages in museums will help to clarify the social dimensions of monumentality (Priority B1 and 2). New analyses will be positioned temporally by the development of refined chronologies from Bayesian approaches (Priority 2A).

The monument builders appropriated the past, perhaps even when the initial builders of monuments may have come from elsewhere. In many cases monuments were sited with regard to earlier, hunter-gatherer activities. These can be attested by field investigations (Priority 1B) and by expressions of those activities through vegetation change (Priority 1C).