Introduction

The Neolithic period in Europe, and elsewhere globally, is of enduring interest because it presents one of the great transformations in human history: over time, from small-scale, probably often mobile and egalitarian hunter-gatherer communities to complex, variously hierarchical societies materially based on sedentary existence and a farming economy. This process was played out across long periods of time, and in different ways and at different rates in different regions. Much research activity and debate are currently devoted to the first beginnings of this transformation — to the so-called Mesolithic-Neolithic transition — and while later developments are not ignored, it often seems that they are taken for granted as the inevitable outcome of the initiation and first establishment of the Neolithic way of life.

The Times of Their Lives project offers ground-breaking progress towards the construction of much more precise chronologies for the Neolithic period in Europe, particularly focused on phases after initial transformations, through a proven combination of expertise in Neolithic archaeology and Bayesian statistical analysis. It offers a series of case studies across much of the continent, working principally through the application of formal chronological modelling in a Bayesian statistical framework, combined with critical, problem-oriented archaeological analysis. We hope to provide much more precise timings of key features and trends in the European Neolithic sequence than are currently available, and to construct much more precise estimates of the duration of events and phenomena. From these there is the possibility to open up new insights into the tempo of change through the detailed study of selected sites and situations across the span of the European Neolithic, from the sixth to the early third millennia cal BC. At stake is our ability to study the lives of Neolithic people everywhere at the scale of lifetimes, generations and even decades, as opposed to the more usual scale of centuries.

Other pages set out more detail of the underlying rationale behind the project, the Bayesian approach to the interpretation of radiocarbon dates and the site-based and regional studies with which the project is engaged. The project ranges from northern Scotland to south-west Spain, Malta and Serbia, and encompasses studies of tells, ‘flat’ settlements and cemeteries, wetland settlements, ditched enclosures, megalithic and other monuments, and pollen diagrams. Underlying themes include the development of major settlement foci (‘aggregations’ or ‘coalescent communities’), processes of cultural change, and the development of monumentality.