Passage Tomb People is a four-year research project based in the School of Archaeology, University College Dublin and funded by the Irish Research Council Laureate Awards 2017/2018. The project represents the first systematic, integrated attempt to explore the social drivers of passage tomb construction, drilling down into the archaeology of three Atlantic passage tomb regions – Ireland, Orkney and North Wales. Interest in passage tombs is as old as the discipline of archaeology itself, ranging from origins and chronology, to landscape setting and symbolism. However, some of the most basic questions remain unanswered: who were these builders, and what worlds were they part of? What types of resources underpinned these staggering feats of engineering?
The project is informed by two core themes: sustainability and connectedness. Sustainability is a critical issue for investigation as current research suggests early Neolithic farming is unstable and ultimately fails, only becoming properly established in the Bronze Age. Passage tombs are constructed exactly at the point when human labour and economic surplus are argued to be at a low ebb, an apparent contradiction that needs to be explored. Similarly, there is long-held and widespread recognition of the connectedness of Atlantic passage tomb regions, with striking similarities in grave goods, tomb art and architecture and a new concern with marking the sun cycle. These connections have even been argued to be at the root of the Atlantic ‘Celtic’ identity. Our project will probe the extent and timing of links across passage tomb regions, examining what drove this particular phase of cultural interaction.