The following sections will consider a range of information regarding the character of social organisation and the expression of identity in the Scottish Bronze Age, with a particular focus on the evidence provided by mortuary rites, ceremonial monuments and depositional practices. Although grave goods played an important role in the construction of age, gender and possibly status distinctions (e.g. Sheridan and Shortland 2003), most burials – especially during the later part of the period – were unaccompanied; in these cases, however, detailed consideration of bodily treatment, depositional context and the architecture of funerary monuments provides insights into changing concepts of self and community, as well as ideas about ancestry, death and the afterlife (e.g. Downes 1999). As will be seen below, mortuary architecture is highly varied, and in some regions forms just one element of more extensive monument complexes that include other types of monument such as henges, stone rows and timber circles: some of the latter were built in the Bronze Age while others date to the Neolithic, indicating that particular places retained their significance over very long periods of time.
The spatial relationships between such sites doubtless acted as one way of giving material form to social relations. Beyond this, however, the alignment of sites such as recumbent stone circles on prominent features of the landscape, notably conspicuous mountains (e.g. MacGregor 2002, 153-155), serve as a reminder that these monument complexes must also be calculatedly set within their landscape contexts. Natural features such as mountains, rivers and bogs were part of Bronze Age cosmographies: the importance of these places was marked out by the deposition of metal objects (e.g. Cowie 2004) and the creation of rock art (e.g. Bradley 1997). Bronze Age monuments also frequently incorporated lunar and solar alignments (e.g. Burl 2000) so that both they and the intensely socialised landscapes in which they were set could be referenced to wider schemes according to which people’s place in the universe could be defined. However, it would be a mistake to make too sharp a distinction between the ‘sacred landscapes’ of monument complexes or ‘liminal’ places such as bogs and the everyday world of domestic practice (Bradley 2005a): there is also good evidence that ritual activities of various sorts took place in Bronze Age roundhouses.