The Meaning of Religion and Ritual in Young and Late Neolithic Causewayed Enclosures of South Scandinavia and Central Europe

Neolithic societies created monumental structures all across the European continent and beyond. Besides several kinds of megalithic constructions, which partially survive until today and are therefore most commonly known, enclosed space is a highly significant characteristic. In different regions and periods, areas have been separated through ditch-systems and/or wooden elements. The resulting structures are heterogeneous in terms of design and find assemblages. As a consequence, their meaning has been intensively discussed since the first discoveries in the early 20th century. Current interpretations of the usage of enclosures consider a high variety of human activities, the phenomenon obviously cannot be generally explained and the spatial and temporal diversity is widely accepted.

Those structures with multiple segmented ditches – causewayed enclosures – are especially on the British Isles and in Scandinavia predominantly regarded as locations for ritual activities: Their topographical situation does not regularly serve economic or fortification purposes. Ditches are in part heavily segmented and to be seen more as symbolic borders and/or as locations for deposition practice rather than defensive barriers. A lack of settlement architecture, highly restrictive entrances to huge areas, and intentional filling and recutting of ditches have been repeatedly observed.

Artefacts were in many cases not just disposed, but intentionally deposited or destroyed. Respective finds of pots, stone tools, and carcasses led to assumptions of sacrifice, ritual feasting, and others. Human remains of remarkable appearance in terms of deposition, selection, preservation, and treatment caused interpretations of enclosures in the context of multi-staged burial rites in connection with contemporary megalithic graves.

Causewayed enclosures are suitable to investigate various aspects of Neolithic ritual and religion: Hypothetically diverse (temporal and spatial) belief systems and ritual actions, the relationship between power and religion in consideration of monumental structures as well as the connection between spiritual and everyday life. The potential of the investigation to create a differentiated picture is apparent considering the contrast to Continental European research that often emphasizes a profane use for similar structures. Equally promising is the comparison of areas with and without associated megalithic burials. Given the broad spatial and temporal context of the project work area and the variety of archaeological cultures, I expect to discover continuity and change in different sacred and profane aspects of Neolithic life connected to causewayed enclosures. They can be analysed and interpreted on the basis of the hypothetically diverse appearance and relation of archaeologically accessible activities.

Remains of occurred activities will be compared within a macro-analysis in order to analyse and interpret characteristics of societies with hypothetically diverse belief systems and/or ritual practices. In addition, more light will be shed on aspects of the causewayed enclosures.

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