1. Introduction


The Boyne to Brodgar initiative is a network of museums, universities, independent experts, societies, trusts and local authorities, with extensive links to community groups. It can undertake a whole range of activities which focus on Neolithic heritage as a means of celebrating and furthering Scotland-Ireland links, creating several significant legacies. 

Neolithic monuments (from around 4000 BC to 2500 BC) are a significant feature of Scotland’s and Ireland’s rich shared heritage. There are over 1000 upstanding monuments from the Neolithic period in Scotland and Ireland, many of international significance, including World Heritage Sites, visited by tens of thousands of people every year. 

Boyne to Brodgar: Making Monuments, Creating Communities is an innovative project, focusing on the Neolithic monuments across Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. These range from the iconic World Heritage Sites of Brú na Bóinne and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney to less well-known henges and timber circles. This international, interdisciplinary and cross- sectoral initiative is co-operative, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable, featuring archaeologists, heritage professionals, educators and community groups, in the UK and Ireland and beyond. 

A black image showing a lit up passage in orange tones mimicking candle light. The passage is rectangular and becomes smaller into the distance.
Knowth passage tomb, Brú na Bóinne ©️ Przemysław Sakrajda (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Boyne to Brodgar aims to: 

» Improve understanding of these monuments, the people who built and used them, and their connections, by fostering and promoting research. 

» Assist heritage professionals to create policies and strategies for the investigation, preservation and presentation of these monuments, developing joined-up and sustainable heritage tourism trails of Neolithic monuments across Ireland and Scotland. 

» Empower local communities to take pride in and protect their prehistoric heritage through co-developed projects about Neolithic monuments. 

Membership is informal and currently includes University College Dublin, University of the Highlands and Islands, Forestry and Land Scotland, National Museums Scotland, National Museum of Ireland, National Monuments Service, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland, Department for Communities Northern Ireland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, German Archaeology Institute, Northlight Heritage, and Orkney Islands Council. 

Photograph taken from inside a stone circle on a snowy, but sunny day. Nine standing stones, all sub-rectangular, are seen, becoming smaller to the left of the image. The sea can be seen in the background.
Ring of Brodgar during the 2023 SIRFA Symposium in Orkney © ScARF

International seminar 

An international seminar held at the University of Edinburgh in October 2012 provided an opportunity to learn from approaches in other countries to the study, interpretation, presentation and preservation of megalithic monuments. This contributed to building a strategic approach to Scottish megalithic sites, promoting collaboration and cross-sector partnerships. 

The workshop aims were threefold: 

1. To develop a funding proposal informed by international research and created in partnership across the archaeological community in Scotland. 

2. To initiate a long-term programme of research in relation to which individual projects can be planned and supported, and the megalithic monuments of Scotland researched within their local, national and international contexts. 

3. To encourage an intellectual climate in which research, preservation, interpretation and presentation combine to capture the imagination of both the scholarly community and the general public, in a collaborative, inclusive and open spirit. 

A large, round structure with a grass roof and pale yellow stones around the outer wall is seen across a green field. Wooden steps and bannisters can be seen at the entrance of the huge structure.
Newgrange, Brú na Bóinne © Dieglop (CCBY-SA 3.0)


We want to understand monuments and monumentality, the construction and use of which defined the ways by which people in the Neolithic came together, bonded and identified themselves at different temporal and spatial scales. Our project will provide new data and interpretations drawing on the research agenda developed in ScARF. It will bring together and challenge a diverse network of leading specialists in the fields of archaeology, the sciences, heritage management and conservation, community engagement and the arts to rethink the social, cosmological, economic, material, environmental and chronological contexts for monumentality in Neolithic Scotland. It will develop new ways to improve access and engagement with the rich archaeological and environmental resource from this period. A multi-disciplinary approach to the concept of monumentality will promote creative and innovative ways of addressing four major research questions. 

These big questions on the project are deceptively simple: 

  1. Who built the monuments and where did they come from? 
  1. Why did monumentality arise and why did the concept vary at different places and times? 
  1. Where, how and when were monuments built, used and perceived by the people who built them and others, coming after, who re-used them? 
  1. How do we best present monuments and the ideas behind them to people today? 

The first three questions relate to understanding more about prehistory, developing knowledge and applying new technologies and techniques, specifically concerned with monuments as avenues to understand the Neolithic as a key period in Scotland’s past. This work will be organised around new field investigations in Scotland and the re-examination of existing data and records. The fourth question revolves around community engagement and the critical issue of the presentation of the past in the present so that its social and cultural value and potential economic impact can be appreciated.