In the 5th and 4th millennia BC, Neolithic societies began to build above-ground monuments and enclosures in many western, northern and central European regions. These developments are the result of social differentiation processes, changed economic practices, new exchange systems and ritual traditions. There appears to be a close relationship between monumentality and the collectivity in construction and use of the monuments themselves.
The most distinct expression of the concept of monumentality exists in the form of megalithic tombs. However, pure earthen constructions, such as long and round barrows, are part of the same phenomenon. On the other hand, monumentality is also expressed in the form of stone monuments, which have no (direct) relationship to burial traditions, such as menhirs and enclosures. The latter must also be regarded as monumental also when pure earthen constructions, although they are also often accompanied by wooden architecture. Finally, wooden architecture itself can become monumental in character.
The session "Monuments of Stone, Wood and Earth" should provide an overview of the manifestations of monumentality in its European context. By doing so, it should also present the latest developments and results in the field of the archaeology of Neolithic monumentality.
Monumentality is a relational concept: It primarily emerges in its contrasting relationship to something in its immediate or extended vicinity. Therefore, monuments are always embedded in an overall landscape, from which they gain their significance. At the same time, it is often observed that individual monuments are related to each other and are enveloped in a spatio-temporal network of meaning that at least partly reflects social networks. Last but not least, settlement structures often represent the perhaps mundane background of the symbolic and ritual components associated with monumentality. Accordingly, it is imperative for an understanding of the phenomenon of monumentalization to assume an archaeological perspective which integrates landscapes.
In the session "Monumental Landscapes", this entanglement will be investigated. In the presentations, different layers of meaning should be developed by addressing groups of monuments, their relationship to each other and to the non-monumental elements of the Neolithic worlds.
It has always been suspected that early monumentality is connected with and potentially also causally determined by changes in subsistence, economy and technology. Today, we are dealing with new results on Neolithic economies through innovations in scientific and archaeological analysis. New light is shed on agricultural tools, techniques and the organization of the Neolithic subsistence economy, including the movement and mobility of things, plants, animals and humans. In such a sense, the development of monumentality might be seen in the setting of new Neolithic economies.
For the session "Neolithic Subsistence and Megaliths", we would like to invite presentations that deal with Neolithic subsistence in general, but also those that especially address the correlation between economy and monumentality.
As a prominent phenomenon, the megalithic grave represents a monument form that indicates a significant collective aspect. Such monuments could only have been constructed collectively. Simultaneously, the collective use of these structures is made plausible through a collective burial custom. The same applies to further forms of monumentality, whereby collective construction processes by larger groups of persons were necessary. At the same time, these monuments may have been important as ritual and symbolic central places, certainly for large groups of people. In addition to the inclusive character of monuments, they are also frequently associated with the exclusion of persons. A megalithic tomb, for example, separates the buried from the outside world. The same applies to enclosures, whereby a clear distinction between inside and outside is created in these cases. Are these monuments thus an expression of a collective ideology, or do they testify the power of some over the labor force of many?
In addition to these inherent characteristics of monuments, the time span of their creation is characterized by a stronger (internal) differentiation of groups of people, also within the field of material culture. For example, a significant regionalization of decorations and ceramic forms occurs in the northern Funnel Beaker culture, while they are spatially united by a very similar burial custom, nearly within a pan-European horizon.
The topic to be explored in the session "Social Diversity and Differentiation" focuses on references to the underlying processes of the said phenomena which arise from current studies. How can we interpret the quite sparse and often seemingly contradictory traces of the social organization of Neolithic societies? Can social differentiation be observed in the context of monumentality of the landscape, and in what forms are the different developments represented in different regions?
The investigation of material culture represents the backbone of archaeological investigations. Material culture is not only important for the creation of a spatial-temporal framework, in which the monumental phenomena can be integrated: Material culture itself represents the most direct way to observe the lifeworld of the Neolithic cultures that are responsible for the construction of the monuments. Through the investigation of material culture, production and consumption processes become perceptible, which include the monuments themselves. By means of such analyses, the processes of work, which determined the Neolithic society to a certain degree, can be examined.
Moreover, it is the tangible condensation of communication processes which connected the individual spatial groups. The exchange of objects may have represented a medium for the reproduction of these societies. Social differentiation processes can only be detected by comparing the material culture of different regions and different times.
In the session "Material Culture in Monumental Settings", presentations are welcome which illuminate material culture in the context of the phenomenon of early monumentality. At the forefront, research should be presented that examines the production, use and distribution of objects and, in this manner, approaches the higher-level questions. Objects of study can be chorological or chronological differences in the use of an entire material group as well as the individual objects themselves. The question to be addressed should focus on how to reconstruct the integration of the object in the practices of daily use and how the practices themselves are integrated in the overall structure of past societies.
Most archaeological methods can only provide us with an indirect indication of the people who built the monuments and lived among them. But there are some approaches that lead more directly to these people. In terms of a broad definition of anthropology, these include the direct examination of human remains, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the analysis of their sparse personal testimonies. Finally, ethnoarchaeological studies, although they may not closely investigate Neolithic cultures themselves, still represent an invaluable extension of the interpretation horizon with their data material.
Personal testimonies and human remains are unevenly available in different areas of the distribution of the phenomenon of early monumentality, mostly in quite sparse quantities. Nonetheless, this makes them even more important as a source where they are present. Although a transfer of knowledge provided by anthropological studies from one area of study to another must make use of the same analogy as ethno-archaeological studies, where they can be carried out, they represent unique focal points that illuminate an otherwise insufficiently delineated sphere. In addition, the evaluation of sparse self-evidence in the form of art, although it is always subject to the interpretive filter of the analysing scientist, is the only clear way to approach the universe of ideas of past societies.
The session "Monuments and Their Builders" will be devoted to the task of gathering such evidence to come closer to "the people behind the monuments". It will present new results concerning the direct remnants of these people, such as that which has been obtained by the analysis of artistic creativity or approached with the help of ethnoarchaeological parallels that aid in comprehending the phenomenon of early monumentality from the perspective of a lived reality.