School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Mareike Ahlers

Mareike Ahlers

The First Monuments – Early Neolithic mortuary features and other pre-barrow constructions in the British Isles and the Near Continent.

Subject area: Archaeology


Project outline

The Neolithic was a period of major transformation: the beginning of a farming way of life and, within a few generations, the construction of the first monumental structures changed the landscape of northwest Europe.

These monuments seem to mark a new conception of land, society and cosmology.

My PhD research will conduct a comparative analysis of the features that preceded the construction of Early Neolithic long barrows in the British Isles, Northern Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

Different mortuary features and deposits have been detected in all these regions; however, some similarities even between sites separated by very long distances (e.g. in the British Isles and Denmark) are striking and trigger questions about the nature of connections between these different areas.

Is the intention and meaning of building a barrow the same throughout the British Isles as it is for communities of the TRB Culture?

The development of these Early Neolithic sites into later barrows is not observed everywhere; therefore it is necessary to ask when a barrow was built and when not. For example, what influence had different landscape settings for such a construction in a particular micro-region?

How can these early monumental features be set in context alongside other Early Neolithic sites, or even signs of Late Mesolithic activity?

Can social changes and changing world views be identified by examining these features and developments in mortuary structures?

The chronological timeline of mortuary features and any later alterations, developments and changes need to play a major role in these analyses to trace the process of contacts and influences between each research area.

There has been no synthetic review or comprehensive study that brings together all the key regional developments in the appearance of mortuary structures and other feature preceding long mound monumentality across Northwest Europe, and considers the place of these transformations in the emergence of respective Neolithic societies.

This PhD will fill the gap by completing an exhaustive analysis of features under British early Neolithic mounds, and comparing these with the Continental material.

It will track on an inter-regional scale the emergence of these first monuments across Northern Europe charting the timing, character and significance of these for Neolithic society. It will consider what roles the transformation and development of these places and the enhanced landscape played for early Neolithic societies in Northwest Europe.

In year 1 a detailed catalogue of barrows with pre-mound features and likely contemporary Early Neolithic mortuary structures with no evidence of a later barrow will be produced, drawing on existing catalogues and published sources in German, English and Dutch.

Existing approaches and interpretations will be critically reviewed. Furthermore, a consistent typology of mortuary features will be generated. In year 2 GIS maps will be produced to show patterns of distribution for the different features, and allow spatial analyses with respect to landscape features and contemporary and earlier signs of occupation.

This will focus on the dataset for the British Isles, and a sample of Continental European contemporary mortuary structures and pre-barrow features. In year 3 I will interpret the results of these analyses to answer my overall research question and produce the final thesis text.

Research interests

  • Neolithic Britain
  • Neolithic Northwest Europe
  • TRB Culture
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • History of archaeological research


2007-2014: Magistra Artium at University of Heidelberg, Germany, with dissertation on “The Early Prehistory at the Montrose Basin”, graded with “sehr gut” (1,5)


2014-2017: AHRC Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship
2012: DAAD/KoorBEST placement studentship with the National Trust for Scotland