7 March—28 March 2022

Archaeology study sessions: Marvellous monuments of the Neolithic and Bronze Age

Explore marvellous monuments of the Neolithic and Bronze Age with archaeologist Dr Susan Greaney in this series of archaeology study sessions.

Step back in time to find out about the extraordinary monuments that people built between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago in Britain and Ireland. What is a henge? What did people do at cursus monuments? How did they build stone circles?

For thousands of years, people built monuments of earth, stone and timber, to honour their dead, to provide spaces for ceremony and to express their beliefs. Some of these monuments survive today but many others have been obscured and forgotten, their secrets only revealed through archaeological survey and excavation.

This lecture series will progress chronologically over four weeks, exploring the different forms of monuments that were built in various parts of Britain and Ireland, and what they can tell us about people’s daily lives, about their beliefs and worldviews and about the connections between places and people.

About this course

This course is led by Dr Susan Greaney. Sessions will take place via Zoom on Mondays in March at 7.30pm (GMT):

  • 7 March – The first farmers and their monuments (Early Neolithic)
  • 14 March – Life and death: passage tombs and circles of stone (Middle Neolithic)
  • 21 March – The last hurrah? Mega-monuments at the end of the Stone Age (Late Neolithic)
  • 28 March – Barrows, burials and Beakers (Early Bronze Age)

Numbers are limited to allow participants to ask questions and discuss the topics covered. Lectures will be recorded and made available for those not able to attend every session. A reading list and further information will also be provided as part of the course.

Speaker: Dr Susan Greaney is an archaeologist with specialist knowledge of prehistory, particularly the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments of Britain and Ireland. She works for English Heritage as a Senior Properties Historian where for over 16 years she has been responsible for archaeological research and developing content for a wide variety of exhibitions and site presentation projects, including Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle and Grimes Graves. Susan has recently completed a part-time PhD at Cardiff University, which focuses on Neolithic monument complexes, radiocarbon dating and the power of place.

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Additional information

Session breakdown

The first farmers and their monuments (Early Neolithic)
This opening lecture will chart the story of the arrival of new people from Continental Europe from 4000 BC onwards, bringing with them domestic animals and plants. These people built the earliest monuments in Britain and Ireland, gathering places known as causewayed enclosures, and long barrows, tombs and dolmens for the burial of their dead. Slightly later, intriguing linear cursus monuments were built. Recent research has shown how these monuments had very different purposes and uses, and how these practices spread from different points of origin.

Life and death: passage tombs and circles of stone (Middle Neolithic)
During the middle Neolithic, monument building was different across various regions of Britain and Irealnd. In the Irish Sea zone and Northern Britain passage tombs reached their apogee, with the construction of large and highly decorated tombs such as Newgrange and Maeshowe. This period was also when the earliest stone circles are built. In parts of Britain, people buried some of their cremated dead within circular earthworks, although area such as Yorkshire people were buried in individual graves with extraordinary grave goods.

The last hurrah? Mega-monuments at the end of the Stone Age (Late Neolithic)
Towards the end of the Neolithic period in about 2500 BC, across much of Britain there was a frenzy of building large and complex monuments: huge earthwork henges, complex stone circles like Stonehenge, enormous timber enclosures and monumental mounds. Many of these were clustered together where earlier monuments had been built, at monument complexes, and were connected by people travelling over long distances.

Barrows, burials and Beakers (Early Bronze Age)
The arrival of people from Continental Europe, bringing with them new metals (copper and gold), new beliefs, new Beaker pottery and new languages heralded the start of the Bronze Age. Their practices spread and were widely adopted, with people ceasing to build large communal monuments, instead burying their dead in individual graves under round mounds, or barrows. Ancient DNA evidence is showing us how communities lived alongside one another, before further integrating from about 2200 BC onwards.