Adel Coleman (PhD Candidate)
Beaker Ritual and Megalithic Tombs in Western Europe
Supervisor: Prof. William O'Brien
Prehistoric Transitions Research Group
This project will explore an important element of the Beaker ‘culture’ in western Europe, namely the use and re-use of megalithic chambered tombs for funerary and other purposes. Beaker pottery and related material culture has been discovered in megalithic tomb contexts across most regions of Atlantic Europe into northern Europe. This is not a unified phenomenon, with obvious variability in depositional practice over the long duration of the Beaker cultural phenomenon (c.2600–2000 BC). In some instances this material culture occurs in so-called primary contexts in these tombs, placed there by the builders of these tombs or their immediate descendants as part of religious tradition physically embodied by the monument. Examples include the Irish wedge tomb or the rock-cut tombs of Portugal, where Beaker pottery can be linked to burnt and unburnt burials in primary contexts. More common is the re-use of older chambered tombs by Beaker groups, where funerary and non-funeral deposits were made in so-called secondary contexts. Examples include Beaker deposits at the Boyne Valley passage tombs or the allées couvertes of Brittan
This study requires a new look at the changing significance of megalithic tombs in the past, as later generations re-interpreted these monuments with a new religious outlook in different social contexts. This brings the study into the wider field of research on monumentality, memory and tradition in late prehistory, involving a study of the ‘past in the past’ and the way that Beaker material culture was used in these older monumental settings. This can be explored through a number of case-studies. The study will commence with a desk-top review of published information on Beaker pottery finds at megalithic tomb locations in Western Europe. The geographical scope of the project will need to be defined, in terms of whether all Beaker culture regions are included or an emphasis placed on the Atlantic region. The synthesis of published information will examine the range of Beaker material culture at individual sites and the contextual information for these finds. This literature review will be followed by consultation of archives and museums to access unpublished site records. The aim is to compile a comprehensive database of Beaker material culture finds from megalithic tombs. This information will be analysed to examine the motivation behind these deposits in religious terms. The study will also consider the wider religious dimension of the Beaker ‘culture’ by comparing megalithic tomb practices to other types of ritual deposition of this pottery in different regions.