(ARCH016) Ritual Landscapes in Neolithic Britain

Stone circle


Course start date: Monday 23rd September 2024
Course end date: Friday 29th November 2024
Early Bird Price: £135

Tutor: Dr Tina Tuohy
Course Code: ARCH016
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory. There will be an opportunity to undertake an an optional essay of 1500-2500 words. If you choose to do this you will not receive a mark or grade, but you will receive feedback from the tutor on your work.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Price: £150.00
Pre-Requisite Course(s): None
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

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Required Reading**: None

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr Tina Tuohy when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


What is a ritual landscape and how did they develop and change in Neolithic Britain? These are the questions we will be addressing on this course.

To do this we will consider approaches to ritual practices in the Neolithic and then look at the monuments and features that can be said to make up a ritual landscape. These will include burial monuments, causewayed enclosures, cursus, henges, avenues, timber circles and large mounds. Case studies will comprise the Boyne Valley, Orkney, Avebury and Stonehenge.

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: Introduction. What Is A Ritual Landscape?
Week 02: How Do We Recognize Neolithic Ritual Practices?
Week 03: Burial Monuments
Week 04: Enclosures and Circles
Week 05: Cursus and Avenues
Week 06: Art and Artefacts
Week 07: Ireland: Boyne Valley Tombs
Week 08: Orkney Ritual Landscape
Week 09: Avebury Ritual Landscape
Week 10: Stonehenge Ritual Landscape

Course Content in Depth

Week 1: Introduction. What Is A Ritual Landscape?

We begin with a brief covering of current dating for the Neolithic. A ‘ritual landscape’ is one where a number of different ritual sites and monuments are gathered together, so we will look briefly at these monuments in their landscapes of belief, and also discuss what went before.

Week 2: How Do We Recognize Neolithic Ritual Practices?

This really asks the question, what is religion and how do we recognise it in the Neolithic period? We shall discuss different aspects such as places of worship, processional ways, burial monuments and votive offerings. We will also explore how these show up in archaeological contexts.

Week 3: Burial Monuments

Our third week explores the different types of burial monument, such as:

  • Earthen long barrows
  • Severn Cotswold toms
  • Megaliths
  • Orkney tombs
  • Passage graves

We look at what these monuments can tell us about Neolithic beliefs.

Week 4: Enclosures and Circles

Next we will consider places of worship as seen in the two principal types of enclosure: causewayed enclosures and henges. How were these used; for religion or simply as communal meeting places?

Week 5: Cursus and Avenues

Week five looks at processional ways in terms of cursus and avenues. This will involve looking at site evidence for cursus in Dorset, Springfield, Dorchester in Thames and Thornborough; and evidence for avenues in Avebury, Orkney and Stonehenge.

Week 6: Art and Artefacts

In ‘Art and Artefacts’ we’ll look at the exterior and interior decoration of burial monuments, and at the grave goods deposited within them. We will pay particular attention to the Boyne tombs as well as discussing portable votive objects and their significance.

Week 7: Ireland: Boyne Valley Tombs

We will then be in a position to look at this landscape as our first case study.

Week 8: Orkney Ritual Landscape

Our case study of the Orkney ritual landscape will look at its history as well as recent research and discoveries.

Week 9: Avebury Ritual Landscape

In our penultimate week we will take an in-depth look at the Avebury ritual landscape, both in the early and late Neolithic.

Week 10: Stonehenge Ritual Landscape

And finally we shall explore a case study of the Stonehenge landscape, both historically and in light of recent research.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop a basic level of:

  • Understanding of what is meant by a ritual landscape
  • Understanding of Neolithic religions and their practice as seen through archaeological contexts
  • Knowledge of the following features:
    • enclosures
    • burial monuments
    • cursus and avenues
    • tomb art
    • portable artefacts and their uses
  • Understanding of the landscapes of Boyne Valley, Orkney, Avebury and Stonehenge within the context of ritual landscapes