Monuments and Memorials

Michael Rowlands & Christopher Tilley. Handbook of Material Culture. Editor: Christopher Tilley, Webb Keane, Susanne Küchler, Michael Rowlands, Patricia Spyer. Sage Publications. 2006.

Monumentalizing the Past

Monuments and memorials exist as a means of fixing history. They provide stability and a degree of permanence through the collective remembering of an event, person or sacrifice around which public rites can be organized. This is a fairly straightforward understanding of why tangible heritages of objects, archives, museums, monuments and memorials exist in order to make us believe in the permanence of identity Moreover, following Nora’s now classic work on lieux de mémoires, these sites of memory are consciously held ideas of the past, constructed usually in the midst of upheaval (Nora 1989). The rise of national memory emerged in Europe in the midst of a crisis of authority. The foundation of the Louvre museum in 1793 belongs to a revolutionary era in France, whose agents, in the midst of upheaval, needed to fashion a stable image of the past. As Lowenthal suggests, the projection of of an image of permanence on to a landscape serves to deny the realities of change (Lowenthal 1985). As history destroys the capacity for ‘real memories’, Nora argued that it constructs instead sites of memory as a social and encompassing symbiosis maintained through objects and performances (cf. Nora 1989; Connerton 1989). He draws attention to the alienated status of memory in modern times: an estrangement concretized in monuments, museums and sites of memory (Maleuvre 1999: 59).

The monumentalizing of time is therefore inseparable from changes in social memory. A monument is an object taken out of history, by history. Yet it stands for history in terms of what it has left behind, as a mnemonic trace that also separates it from the present. The nature of the monument lies in the distance it creates for the viewer from both past and present; it belongs neither to an original setting from which it has been abstracted or copied nor to the present, in which it resists assimilation (cf. Maleuvre 1999: 59). Monuments create uncanny spaces of public display and ritual that also function to perform what Boyer refers to as ‘civic compositions that teach us about our national heritage and our public responsibilities and assume that the urban landscape is the emblematic embodiment of power and memory’ (Boyer 1994: 321). Johnson also emphasizes the duplicitous character of monuments that are materially experienced memorially through the visual and other senses while simultaneously functioning as social symbols (Johnson 2004: 317). Monuments are powerful because they appear to be permanent markers of memory and history and because they do so both iconically and indexically i.e. they can evoke feelings through their materiality and form as well as symbolize social narratives of events and sacrifices retold in public rituals.

Alois Riegl also argued that the appearance of the ‘modern monument cult’ depended on a combination of different value judgements; ‘historical value’ as time-specific and documentary and ‘age value’, which includes signs of temporal duration from patina and damage to incompleteness and everyday wear and tear. Both defer to time and yet lace it with anxiety over the consequences of change (Starn 2002: 51). Monumental time is constructed as an index of an unchanging value but does so only by losing touch with what is actually remembered. As such monuments and memorials resist memory as much as they celebrate it. On the one hand we have museums for everything from agricultural tools to space exploration as part of the fear that everything in our self-liquidating modernity is threatened with oblivion (cf. Berman 1982) and on the other, for anything to deserve to be preserved suggests that it has already been forgotten. The real becomes cultural heritage, because according to Nora, reality as unproblematic memory has already disappeared. As many have observed, the cult of modern monumental time is therefore imbued with nostalgia. ‘Nostalgia is the repetition that mourns the inauthenticity of all repetition and denies the repetition’s capacity to form identity’ (Stewart 1984: 23). Instead the failures of the present must be apprehended through the acquisition of some redemptive history that promises eventual salvation. This combines with mourning for lost individual autonomy, loss of spontaneity and simplicity and the claim that monumental time is a form of historical consciousness that leads to alienation from our surroundings. Susan Stewart argues that nostalgia is a form of sadness without an object; that it always only exists as a narrative, which attaches itself to an impossibly pure belief in the experience of a utopian origin. As such ‘This point of desire which the nostalgic seeks is in fact the absence that is the very generating mechanism of desire—nostalgia is the desire for desire’ (Stewart 1984: 23).

A distinct fascination with things memorable is therefore a feature of modernity. ‘Collective memory’ emerged as an object of scholarly inquiry in the early twentieth century. In The Social Frameworks of Memory Maurice Halbwachs argued, against the neurobiologizing, individualizing or racial views of the time, that memory is a specifically social and collective phenomenon (cf. Connerton 1989). The boom in memory studies, as a feature of the 1980s, is witnessed by the appearance of influential works such as Pierre Nora’s Realms of Memory volumes (1996) and David Lowenthal’s The Past is a Foreign Country (1985). They share a dissatisfaction with historicist approaches which claim to provide objective, critical reconstructions of the past. In part the heritage debate relates to various anti-historicist trends in postmodernism, claiming that heritage is a late twentieth-century form of social memory which appeals to a sense of the popular and the sensory which had become lost to the objectivism of history. The most common strategy identified public memory with a collection of practices associated with material culture, most obviously in the form of public architecture, archives, museums and monuments, and with more everyday forms of material culture—domestic objects, photographs, mementoes and souvenirs, children’s toys, etc. Memory objectified in material culture becomes an active agent with therapeutic powers (cf. Hoskins 1998; Young 1993). Memory as re-enchantment merges with recent work on trauma theory to promise recovery from loss and denial (Feuchtwang 2003). Memory work is thought most likely to subvert the totalizing varieties of historicism because our epoch has been uniquely structured by trauma and its effects. Moreover Nora’s belief that true memory has disappeared could be challenged by the growth of heritage studies showing that memory survived as an authentic mode of discourse in the use of material culture or as a counter-history that challenged the false generalizations of exclusionary history (Samuel 1994).

We have therefore several explanations for a new memorializing of the past. Klein (2000: 143) summarizes these rather well as, first, following Pierre Nora, that we are obsessed with memory because we have destroyed it with historical consciousness. Modern memory is a conscious construct projected on to a sense of place. A second holds that memory is a new experience that grew out of the modernist crisis of the self in the late nineteenth century and has evolved into current usage as part of a cure and a healing process. A third would identify memory as the pre-modern that, contra Nora, we still discover in the ethnographic periphery or as ‘real-life’ experience of the poor, of minorities and the oppressed. Fourth, and following on from the third, that memory is a mode of discourse natural to people without history and so its re-emergence is a salutary feature of decolonization. Finally that memory is now inseparable from identity politics as a post-1980s feature linked to postmodern crises in historical consciousness and the production of totalizing narratives.

Monuments and Public Memory

There is a large literature on how official urban landscapes of memory—e.g. museums, memorials and monuments—act as stages or backdrops in framing myths of national identity (cf. Johnson 2004; Till 1999: 254). It is practically impossible to conceive of any modern urban landscape which is not saturated with the materiality and style of public buildings and spaces, designed and built in a relevant phase of nation building (in Euro-America e.g. c. 1870–1914). Always they were intended to inculcate a sense of belonging, civic consciousness combined with the everyday familiarity of moving and working in an urban environment. The redesign of the Ringstrasse in Vienna (Schorske 1980) or Haussman’s rebuilding of Paris (Edholm 1993) exemplify the monumentalizing of urban form in late nineteenth-cèntury Europe and North America as the expression of triumphant middle-class values. Mosse’s study of the rise of German nationalism from the Napoleonic Wars to the rise of National Socialism shows how this ‘new politics’ drew people into a common sense of belonging through their participation in national rites and festivals (Johnson 1995; Mosse 1975). These spaces of public display and ritual are civic compositions that aim to teach us about national heritage and our public responsibilities and assume that the urban landscape is the emblematic embodiment of power and memory (Boyer 1994: 321). Cultural practices and rituals such as laying wreaths at national memorials or festive parades that take place along a prescribed route serve still to ‘naturalize’ a collective identity as citizens enact what is normal and appropriate for a group in a particular setting (cf. Till 1999: 254). More often still, the twentieth century became associated with totalitarianism and the transfixing of fantasies of total and enduring power in highly personalized monumental landscapes. Saddam Hussein’s ‘victory arch’ in Baghdad, built to nearly twice the size of the Arc de Triomphe, was made from a cast of his forearms, showing every bump and follicle (Makiya 2004).

Dissident groups may not agree with these rhetorics and may fight to take them over or to create alternatives that are territorially and socially distinct. In the nineteenth century, there were many such disputes over the appropriate nature of monumental urban landscapes, (e.g. Johnson 1995). But disputes over who has the authority to create, define, interpret and represent collective pasts through the creation of place also serves to reinforce the principle that this is how identity should be framed (cf. Kaplan 1994; Mitchell 1988). The formation of nineteenth-century urban imperial landscapes was also inseparable from the building of colonial urban landscapes. The building of Delhi by Lutyens, for example, which grafted British imperial ambitions on to earlier Mughal architectural styles created built forms that were imported back into metropolitan colonial architecture in Britain and the construction of war memorials after the First World War.

Public memory can become even more ‘entangled’ with the very objects of its negotiation, including historical narratives, oral histories, street landscapes, films, photographs and other cultural productions of collective memory. By collective memory is meant the way in which groups map their myths about themselves and their worlds on to a specific time and place (Connerton 1989). Collective memory is not an accumulation of individual memories but includes all the activities that go into making a version of the past resonate with group members. This borrows from Halbwachs (1950) the notion that personal recall is localized in specific social and spatial contexts and is reconstructed in the social environments of the present. Hence collective memories are always open to renegotiation and change. But as Till (1999), Sturken (1991) and others stress, ‘the cultural arena rather than the academy is the domain of public memory’ (Till 1999: 255). They contrast the production of public memory through the media, cultural landscapes, entertainment and public ceremonies and festivals with historical discourses relying on scholarly exegeses and formal university and other institutional networks. The struggle between social groups to gain cultural authority to selectively represent and narrate their pasts includes the production of these means and therefore the right to engage in a cultural politics and to participate in a democratizing process (cf. Hall 2000).

Since the 1980s this struggle has increasingly taken the form of ‘heritage’ to describe the expanding range of commemoration in our time (Bodnar 2000: 957). Lowenthal argues that heritage is at present much less about ‘grand monuments, unique treasures and great heroes’ and now ‘touts the typical and the vernacular’ (Lowenthal 1995). Samuel concludes that ‘heritage’ has become a nomadic concept that is attached to almost anything, including landscapes, houses, family albums, souvenirs, street signs and sport. The suspicion exists that an earlier nationalist link between public memory and official space is being drained of politics and inequality. A commodified ‘heritage’ may instead promote a pseudo-democracy where people are free to pursue a myriad of personalized pasts and leisure-time fantasies and thus be diverted from reality (Bodnar 2000: 957).

By contrast, Philippe Aries’s description of the rise of commemorative monuments and practices in the nineteenth-century in Europe informs us that the passing of loved ones and their commemoration was related to a new personal awareness of the fact that lived experience of the past can never be directly recalled (Aries 1974; Hutton 1993: 2). ‘Heritage’ is part of collective memory and inseparable from the rise of a modernist identity politics. It is a modern and more conscious sense of past that promotes a politics of belonging by embedding it in personal narratives of loss, redemption and reconciliation. Aries argued that such a need for personal commemoration and longing for a past flowed over into various public acts of monumentalizing heroic figures and events in the nineteenth century as the personal was harnessed to galvanize the public realm (Aries 1974). Tensions and conflicts existed in harnessing the forces of tradition to promote a national culture but it became increasingly difficult for an alternative, more personal, desire for a future to exist without them. This relates to Nora’s claim that the nineteenth century saw a transition from ‘pre-modern environments of memory’ where the personal was embedded in a living memory to ‘sites of memory’ as places designed to perpetuate a consciously held sense of the past (Nora 1989).

Bodnar argues that whilst the monumentalising of the public realm in the nineteenth century was consistent with the rise of civic consciousness and tensions over the relation of democracy and tradition in France and America, the twentieth century saw this uneasy relationship shattered by war. Violence and the demands of the state for personal sacrifice on a huge scale undermined a nineteenth-century ‘naturalizing’ of personal commemoration and the public sphere and replaced it with grief and a struggle to justify enormous loss through the iconography and presence of war memorials. (Bodnar 1992, 2000; Sturken 1991). The rise of ‘heritage’ as nomadic and detached from any particular sense of place or monument represents therefore a distinct change in the nature of public memory. A late twentieth-century turn towards the personalization of local groups and identities is inseparable from a growing recognition of cultural diversity, the objectification of cultural memory and increasingly a sense of crisis in claims to cultural authority (cf. Johnson 2004).

Mourning and War Memorials

During the twentieth century, public memory became charged with the responsibility to recognise the suffering caused by warfare. Prior to this memorials and statues were built for war heroes or for military triumphs but the majority of those who died in war disappeared unrecognized into unmarked graves. Individual recognition of the dead from major conflicts begins with the American Civil War and the Boer War but was only fully recognized and demanded by the families of the dead as a consequence of First World War trauma (cf. Winter 1995). Aries recognized that commemorating the dead had become an increasing personal and family matter during the latter part of the nineteenth century and that this had enervated a sense of national belonging. (Aries 1974). It was also to become the basis for the refusal by the living survivors and families to accept lack of recognition of the sacrifice of loved ones. Recovery from death and trauma is invariably associated with the assertion of love and intimacy in the mourning process and twentieth-century mass death projected this on to a landscape of mourning and suffering.

In the aftermath of the First World War each combatant state attempted to inaugurate a landscape of national remembrance (Saunders 2004). In France, the state agreed, where possible, to pay for the return home of the bodies of the dead and frequently their individual names were inscribed on local memorials (Sherman 1994; Johnson 1995: 56). In Britain it was decided (controversially) to bury the bodies of the dead near the battlefields of the western front and resist any attempt to return them to their families. Instead enormous efforts were made to identify individuals, initially to be inscribed on monuments and subsequently on individual headstones in cemeteries of standard dimensions and materials regardless of status or rank. The recognition of individual dead continued after the Second World War where names were often added to First World War memorials. The Vietnam war memorial in Washington extends the principle of equality to the point of listing the dead chronologically by the day of the year of their death (Sturken 1991; Rowlands 1998).

First World War sites were grouped to form landscapes in which cemeteries, memorials, battlefield sites and museums are ‘mapped’ to facilitate the visitor’s experience of an event that personally they can have little means of imagining at first hand. The principal site for war remembrance in the United Kingdom is the cenotaph, an empty memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens and placed in Whitehall. This was accompanied by the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey and both are linked with rites conducted at the same time throughout the country at similar memorials in towns and cities (Lacqueur 1994; Johnson 2004). What was considered to be an appropriate monument to the dead was already hotly disputed immediately after the First World War (cf. Saunders 2004). The cenotaph was attacked as ‘nothing more or less than a pagan memorial’ (cited in Johnson 2004: 324) whilst a memorial to the Anzacs in Sydney was finally never accepted because of the public outcry over its lack of respect for the dead (Rowlands 1998). Controversy over the Vietnam war memorial also centred on what was considered to be (lack of) proper respect (Sturken 1991). Werbner describes the monument built outside Harare in honour of the dead who fought against white supremacy in Zimbabwe as a form of anti-memory given its precise objective to ‘forget’ the mass slaughter of the Ndebele that also formed the basis of the creation of the state (Werbner 1998). The Peace Museum in Hiroshima is equally an attempt to break with a memorializing tradition that promotes acceptance of mass sacrifice and promotes instead a wish never to forget and recognition of the consequences of mass death. Disturbance and shock can be seen as the aims of the counter-monuments described by Young (1993) and more broadly those representations of mass trauma that lead inevitably for many to ask why so many had to suffer and die.

Of these, the Holocaust has undoubtedly been the focus both of an effective means to silence the past and to come to terms with it. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, for example, has been criticized for the way in which the memories of survivors are appropriated for the display of an idealized and liberal American identity, for the way that Jews are exhibited only in death or as a people and culture that exist only as having a past (Crysler and Kusno 1997). Young also points out that, whilst America puts so much of its resources into a Jewish Holocaust Museum, it refuses a similar commitment to a museum of slavery or the genocide committed against Native Americans. Via the Holocaust America can remember its tolerance and liberalism and forget its own past (Young 1993). Post-Nine-eleven and the debate over the memorializing of the ground zero site has effectively transformed the issue of remembering into a more charged issue of what should never be forgotten regardless of any crimes or intolerances endured along the way. The state and its citizens are now united in the assertion of a single identity the future of which is seen to be in peril and in their intolerance of critique (cf. Kapferer 2002: 149).

Disgraced Monuments

Since the nineteenth century and earlier, monuments and statues have attracted controversy and hostility. If an imperial project could be pursued through developing an appropriate memory space where only the ‘thinkable’ would be allowed, equally the opposite can occur. In part this may be as much a question of neglect, since monuments, as supposedly permanent markers of memory and history, require both physical and symbolic maintenance. There is no reason to assume therefore that nineteenth-century national and imperial projects were always successful in achieving their purpose (Johnson 1995). In Dublin, for instance, statues celebrating overtly nationalist leaders like O’Connell and Parnell were erected side by side with existing statues to George II or Queen Victoria. As the latter were either destroyed or removed, Irish nationalism asserted itself through a lengthy process of transforming the urban memory space of Dublin (Johnson 1995).

Widespread destruction of a previously unwanted past is particularly a feature of post-socialist states in Eastern Europe and Russia. In Budapest the city council removed over twenty monuments erected in the previous communist era. Statues in Moscow, St Petersburg and elsewhere in Russia have been removed and taken to special parks or a heritage space where those who want to can come and see them. Forest and Johnson (2002) explore the formation of a post-Soviet national identity through a study of the political struggles over key Soviet era monuments and memorials in Moscow. They show how the new elites used the decision to preserve or remove these sites to define their own positions within the new political hierarchy and with the public in order to gain prestige, legitimacy and influence (Forest and Johnson 2002). By erecting memorials in a public space, attempts are made to define the historical figures and events that become the formative events of a national identity. Disgracing existing monuments is a process of redefining this agenda and replacing them with new narratives. For example, Till has described the conflicts between different groups that negotiated the redesign of the Neue Wache memorial in Berlin (Till 1999). The destruction of the Berlin Wall was a more overt expression of the public ‘speaking back’ to the state whilst the history of Tianeman Square and the events of 1989 show an alternative sequence when the state ‘strikes back’ (Wu Hung 1991). What they share is the power to transcend time, to bring historical events back into the present and make bodies, objects and monuments effective again in mobilizing social movements. Verderey in the context of Romania, describes how the wielding of ‘symbolic capital’ by political elites is essential to political transformation. (Verderey 1999) and Coombes’s discussion of the fate of the Vortrekker monument outside Johannesburg illustrates how even ‘disgrace’ may be an ambivalent notion when the monument is retained in a ‘state of disgrace’ to remind future generations (Coombes 2003). The aim is not to challenge the need for national identity nor the desire to create a sense of sacred identity through the manipulation of the past but to reassert that after a short period of struggle, identities crystallize again and become once more difficult to challenge.

Finally the destruction of monuments shades into descriptions of iconoclastic destruction of emotionally charged sites and objects. Barry Flood’s description (Flood 2002) of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in Afghanistan specifically warns against some attributioin of atavistic fury to the destruction of images in Islam but rather their destruction as a consequence of a calculated act by Mullah Omar to make the point that the West was more concerned with the loss of a heritage site than the consequences of economic sanctions on the lives of Afghans. The destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya is an even more telling description of how the emotional attachment to objects and monuments can be manipulated for political nationalist purposes (cf. Layton et al. 2001).

Counter-Monuments and Non-Monuments

The association of public memory with monuments and memorials is biased towards a particular historical experience. Although monuments are powerful because they appear to be permanent markers of history and memory, they can weigh heavily on the capacity to change and to allow alternative renditions of the past. We should not be surprised therefore to detect strong evidence that we are moving perhaps towards the end of monumentalizing the past. Young suggests that counter-monuments in Germany are more subversive than providing alternative modes of representing historical events and personalities. Counter-monuments serve more radically to destabilize the basic premise that the past is stable and enduring (Young 1993). Klein summarizes some of the evidence suggesting that we suffer from a ‘surfeit of memory’ and a politics of victimization at present. Memory and identity are typically yoked together in postmodernist discourse to replace history and to re-enchant our relation to the past and with the world (Klein 2000: 145).

Monuments and memorials, however, share some of the oppressive influence of historical discourse, shaping our sense of the past in definite and figurative ways. By contrast, much of the writing on memory evokes a tendency to employ it as a mode of discourse natural to people without history. The reification of subjectivity and the revival of a primordialism of origins is a view of authentic memory that resolves that it should no longer be consigned to a pre-modern world destroyed by history but recognized as still with us and capable of taking the place of the latter. The tension between history and memory is therefore being reborn as one between discourse and feeling, between secular critical practice and therapeutic practice (cf. Klein 2000). But it need not be so and we seem to be moving towards some kind of reconciliation. Memory has now subsumed what used to be called oral history or popular history into a single field, described as the leading term in the new cultural history (Megill 1998). It is not surprising that material culture has played a significant role in this reconciliation between history and memory. Objects provide more than a mnemonic device for memory to be attached but also the means to privatize and secularize memorial practice. The idea of building personal archives through photographs, mementoes and other mnemonic traces implies that this new ‘historical consciousness’ married history and memory in new personal and material terms. It links monuments, memorials and museums with a much more diverse range of non-monumental sites, including intangible forms of song, music, design, dance and cultural performance. The danger here perhaps is to reiterate an earlier dichotomy espoused by Nora, that memory in opposition to history and consciousness belongs specifically to the peoples of Africa, the Americas and the Pacific as pre-modern sensibility. But a more careful strategy can pursue the useful insights drawn on the relationship between memory and material culture to suggest that a continuity of forms exist, which subverts the dichotomies of both pre-modern/modern and memory/historical consciousness.

The Archaeology of Monuments

Given the enormous number and variety of monuments worldwide any attempt to summarize the archaeological literature on monument building is impossible. Instead we review some innovative archaeological interpretative approaches to Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in Britain and north-west Europe. Even just within this literature there is now an extraordinarily rich and varied discussion about different aspects of monument construction and use with regard to earlier Neolithic long mounds and megaliths, cursus monuments (long linear monuments defined by parallel banks and ditches), causewayed (circular interrupted ditched) enclosures, later Neolithic henge monuments (circular enclosures with an external bank and internal ditch broken by one or a number of entrances), Bronze Age stone circles, barrows and cairns. We consider five interlinked areas of inquiry: studies of monuments and landscapes, the architectural forms of monuments, monuments in relation to cosmologies, mortuary practices, time and memory.

Monuments and Landscapes

There have been a number of recent archaeological studies which have suggested a mimetic relationship between monuments and landscapes, with the monument being a microcosm of the surrounding world. Tilley has argued that the megalithic tombs in Västergötland, central southern Sweden, reflect the landscape in which they are found in terms of the use of building materials and chamber and passage orientation. The megalithic tombs here rest on a flat plain composed of sedimentary rocks. Blocks of these materials were used for the orthostats of the tomb passages and chambers. The plain is broken up dramatically by steep-sided and flat-topped hills of igneous rocks. These were preferentially used for the roofing stones. Thus the choice of building materials duplicates the high/low contrast between the sedimentary rocks and the igneous hills towards which one faces entering the tomb. The tombs frequently occur in staggered north-south rows and their chambers are orientated north-south. This also duplicates a north-south axis of the landscape as defined by the orientation of the igneous hills and valley edges. The passages are low and orientated west-east, the chambers high. On entering the tombs a person metaphorically makes his or her way towards the mountain, crawling down the low passage but being able to stand up in the chamber (Tilley 1996a: 208ff).

Scarre has noted similarities in shape and profile between the mounds of some passage graves in Brittany and local land forms (Scarre 2000). He also notes the liminal sea edge locations of tombs and a preference for a marine backdrop in the lineal arrangements of cairns, and links this with the transformative power of the land/sea boundary (Scarre 2002a). Bradley (2000) and Tilley and Bennett (Tilley et al. 2000; Tilley and Bennett 2001) have discussed relationships between granite rock outcrops and chambered tombs in south-west England and whether the latter resembled the former or the former provided direct inspiration for the construction of the latter and the manner in which later prehistoric populations may not have found it easy to distinguish between natural features such as tors, or rock outcrops, and ruined monuments (see also Bender et al. 2005).

The orientations and locations of the mounds of Neolithic long barrows and long cairns and the passages and chambers of megaliths and Bronze Age cairns have been studied in relation to such topographic features as prominent hills, rock outcrops and ridges, hill spurs and valley systems (Tilley 1994, 1996b; Cummings 2002) and their relationship to topographic features of the coastline, waterfalls and river systems investigated (Bradley 1998; Fowler and Cummings 2003; Fraser 1998; Scarre 2002a; Tilley 1999; Tilley and Bennett 2001). The locations and significance of other types of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments such as temples, henges and stone circles have also been studied in relation to their landscape settings (Bender et al. 2005; Berg 2002; Bradley 1998; 2002; Cooney 2000; Edmonds 1999; Edmonds and Seabourne 2002; Richards 1996; Tilley 1995, 2004a) and standing stones or menhirs (Calado 2002; Tilley 2004a). These studies have all suggested that in various ways the significance of the monuments and the activities that took place in and around them was dialectically related to their landscape settings: the land itself, its forms and features, gave power and significance to the monument and vice versa.

The materiality of the monuments themselves has been a significant point of departure for their study: the shapes, textures, colours, the hardness or softness and roughness or smoothness of the stones and other materials used to construct them (Jones and MacGregor 2002; Cummings 2002; Tilley 2004a). Cummings has shown how different parts of monuments were built of rough or smooth stones and argues that this relates metaphorically to the general role of such monuments in transforming human experience as one moves in and out of and around them. Tilley has contrasted the visual appearance and the feel of stone monuments as part of their phenomenological experience. For example, some Breton menhirs appear visually to be smooth yet feel incredibly rough and coarse. Others look rough, gnarled and cracked yet feel smooth and silky. He has related this to the changing forms of the stones, the manner in which they can look dramatically different when approached from different directions. White quartz, a substance that has very special properties (it glows when pieces are rubbed together, creates sparks, gives off an acrid smell, gleams and shines in the sun and artificial light) and is frequently found on mountain tops, was not only deposited in megalithic monuments but was frequently used to embellish their external appearance, the most famous example being Newgrange in Ireland (O’Kelly 1982; see discussion in Fowler and Cummings 2003).

Parker-Pearson and Ramilisonina (1998) have argued, on the basis of analogies with monument construction in Madagascar (see Bloch 1971; Feeley-Harnik 1991) that the hardness and durability of stone was symbolic of the fixed nature of ancestors and ancestral powers and in opposition to wood, associated with the living. They contrast the nearby henge monument of Durrington Walls with its internal wooden circles surrounded by earthen banks and ditches and the construction of the stone circle of Stonehenge, suggesting that the former was associated with feasting and the world of the living and the latter with the ancestral dead. They argue that a processional route led between the two, at first following the course of the river Avon, and then marked by the earthen banks and ditches of the monument known as the Avenue that runs from the river up to Stonehenge. The study of monuments in relation to paths of movement through the landscape has formed a major focus of research (see, e.g., Barclay and Harding 1999; Barrett 1994; Bradley 1998, 2000, 2002; Exon et al. 2000; Edmonds 1999; Tilley 1994, 1995, 1999).

For the construction of some monuments the materials came from some considerable distance away, the most famous example being the bluestones at Stonehenge, transported from the Prescelli mountains of south Wales (see discussions in Cunliffe and Renfrew 1997). Part of their significance was not only that they were of an exotic non-local material but also where they came from, their place of origin and its characteristics, their paths of movement, and the myths and stories associated with them. The sources for lithic materials used for constructing megalithic monuments in the Boyne valley, Ireland, were many and numerous, including quartz from the Wicklow mountains at least 40 km to the south and granite and siltstones from the Carlingford mountains about the same distance to the north, together with a variety of more local stones: greywacke, limestones and sandstones (Mitchell 1992; Cooney 2000: 136). Similarly numerous types of stones were used to construct Swedish passage graves (Tilley 1996a: 127). This bringing together of raw materials from different local and more distant sources suggests that these monuments had an integrative role, linking human experience of different local and distant landscapes in the form of the monument itself through the transported raw materials used to construct it.

Monumental Architecture and its Experience

The recent use of a phenomenological perspective has stressed the sensuous dimensions of the human experience of monuments and its relationship to the manipulation of architectural space. Prior to this these monuments tended to be both archaeologically represented and interpreted as plans, providing an entirely abstract and somewhat surreal two-dimensional view of them in which the only questions that tended to be asked were of a typological or classificatory nature (Richards 1993: 147). The majority of passage tombs, such as Maes Howe on Orkney, have spacious chambers which contrast with low, narrow passages to move along which one must stoop, or crawl. This physically restricts movement into and out of the tomb and emphasizes the liminal character of the passage linking the outside world of the living with the world of the ancestral dead buired in the chamber. Loud noise is dampened in the chamber but projected out down the passage to the outside like a megaphone. Such sound effects have been studied in detail (Watson and Keating 1999). Visibility and degrees of illumination by the sun at different times of the year have been shown to be crucial to the interpretation of the spaces (Bradley 1989b), as has passage orientation and mound orientation (see e.g. Burl 1987; Ruggles 1997) and the direction in which the passage entrance faces (Tilley 1994). The passage entrance to Maes Howe in Orkney faces north-east, allowing the rays of the setting sun to shine down it and into the chamber on the midwinter solstice. A special roof box constructed above the passage entrance at New Grange in Ireland allows the sun’s rays to enter the chamber on the midwinter sunrise (O’Kelly 1982). Passages of other tombs are often aligned with relation to the equinoxes.

Such experiences of light and darkness, sound, and warmth and coldness, dampness and dryness, have been linked by some to trance experiences and altered states of consciousness, and the geometric art found in some tombs has been interpreted as entoptic images (Bradley 1989a; Dronfield 1995). The more general point is that the architecture of monuments acts on people. It structures where and how they can move, bodily posture, and so on, and thus may be a fundamental element structuring the interpretation and understanding of these places. This embodied perspective on monuments has been linked by a number of authors to the ideological legitimation of power, the masking of social inequalities and the reproduction of dominant discourses.

The idea that monumental architecture was often periodically remodelled in relation to the production of a new social order has been widely discussed (Barrett 1994: 24; Bradley 1998: Chapter 6; Thomas 1991: 43, 1996: 170 ff.). Tilley (1996a) has used an emulation model of social competition to explain the changes in architectural form of megalithic monuments from long dolmens to round dolmens to passage graves in southern Scandinavia in an attempt to account for (1) the close spatial groupings of these different tombs in some areas and (2) their great differences in size and morphology. He argues that initially different groups competed in terms of building longer and longer dolmen mounds with more and more chambers. This is subverted by one group building a new type of tomb, the round dolmen with a chamber in a round mound. A final phase in this model attempts to account for the fact that some large monuments have comparatively few artefacts deposited in and around them while much smaller ones may have many. He argues that social competition for prestige and power switches from monument building to ceremonies involving the deposition and ritual sacrifice of wealth in the form of artefacts.

In general the architecture of Neolithic funerary and ceremonial monuments divides up and creates segmented spaces with varying degrees of accessibility knowledge of which, deemed essential for the well-being of the social group, may have been socially restricted in relation to age and/or gender (e.g. Barrett 1994; Richards 1993; Shanks and Tilley 1982; Thomas 1991: 51, 1993; Tilley 1984). The basic argument is that human subjects were formed through their differential engagement with, and knowledge of, the material forms of these monuments, what the architecture does, rather than what it might specifically mean. The power of certain individuals may have only been manifested in relation to particular types of monument in particular places (Thomas 1996). Many were the medium for different and competing discourses and interpretations (Bender 1998; Brück 2001; Edmonds 1999). Bender (1998) stresses the way in which Stonehenge has been during the past few hundred years a place radically open to different kinds of interpretation in relation to different interests of individuals and groups: ‘a multitude of voices and landscapes through time, mobilising different histories, differentially empowered, fragmented, but explicable within the historical particularity of British social and economic relations’ (1998: 131). In her account the ‘contested’ nature of the Stonehenge landscape is much more evident and nuanced in the present than in the past. Perhaps this is just simply a reflection of the far greater evidence available for interpretation today (we can see the people and hear the cacophony of contemporary discourses), or alternatively, it might suggest a fundamental difference between the ordering of social life and the relation of the individual to society in the past contrasting with the present. Edmonds stresses the multiple possibilities for interpreting the evidence from monuments such as the Etton causewayed enclosure:

There are bundles of cattle bone placed in ditches while still fresh. Some may have still held flesh when buried. Fragments of people were often treated in a similar manner, but there were also human bones that were overlooked. Scattered unnoticed from one part of the enclosure to another, these were weathered and gnawed at by dogs. It is difficult to make sense of the material. The residues of formal moments lie cheek by jowl with traces of domestic activity, an amalgam of ritual and routine. There is an entanglement of roles and values, as if different qualities of the monument were pulled in and out of focus over time. (Edmonds 1999: 111)

In relation to the Mount Pleasant henge monument Brück (2001) similarly argues that its meaning and social relevance would very much have depended on who visited and how and when, on their social role and status, and this might account for the ‘messy’ and often contradictory sets of artefacts and their associations: ‘people would have experienced several parallel versions of social reality constructed through different kinds of knowledge and informed by different concerns and interests’ (2001: 663). It seems quite clear that certain types of monument such as causewayed enclosures and henges had multiple meanings and identities, perhaps precisely because they had a wide variety of different uses criss-crossing any division between the ‘domestic’ and the ‘ritual’. Other types of monuments such as long barrows or dolmens may have had a far more restricted range of meaning and greater formality and control in their use.


The cosmological significance of monuments has been widely discussed, their link with the seasons of the year, the passage of day and night, the rising and setting of the sun, and the movements of the moon, their relationship to land forms, etc., as mentioned above. Bradley has argued that the circular form of monuments in the British (Bradley 1998: Chapters 8–10) Neolithic and Bronze Age suggests that the circle was a basic template for understanding the world. The burial mounds and cairns are circular, surrounded by circular kerbs of stones or ditches, the ceremonial monuments: henges and stone circles are circular and may contain circular structures within their interiors, and so are domestic dwellings. The whole world was, in effect, circles within circles, and in some cases the internal organization of domestic houses and burials is very similar in terms of the locations of pits, entrances, burials, metal deposits, etc. The houses of the living and those of the dead appear to be a structural transformation of the other.

Bradley draws an interesting distinction between ‘permeable’ monuments such as stone circles where one can look out beyond and have a view of the world and the enclosed interior spaces of henges where the world is blocked out. Henges are generally located in lowland landscapes, stone circles in much more dramatic rocky and rugged highland landscapes. Stone circles, he argues, often acted as metaphors for the surrounding landscape (see also Richards 1996):

the building of such permeable enclosures in such a varied topography made it possible for the features of these monuments to refer directly to the world around them. This is what seems to have happened through the astronomical alignments in the planning of some of these sites. They located the newly built monuments within a wider sacred geography. (Bradley 1998: 145)

Fieldwork on the Bronze Age of Bodmin Moor has again emphasized the importance of a circular template for making sense of the world. Ring cairns enclose not only burials but rocky outcrops, or tors (Tilley 1995, 1996; Bender et al. 1997, 2005). The houses on settlement sites have entrances that are oriented so as to look out towards distant cairns and tors. Huge boulder spreads below the main rock outcrops, known locally as clitter, may have been deliberately manipulated so as to create different visual and experiential effects and ‘monuments’ that ambiguously transcend a nature/culture distinction (Tilley et al. 2000; Bender et al. 2005). Unaltered stones were just as significant and meaningful as culturally erected stones such as the stone circles and houses. The houses themselves incorporated large ‘natural’ stones, or grounders, in their perimeters at particular cardinal points or as back stones opposite the house entrances. Some abandoned houses were turned into cairns, or houses for the dead, and were modified by having their interiors and entrances altered or blocked (Bender et al. 2005).

The origins of European megalithic monuments and long mounds have created endless controversy and discussion. They have been variously argued to be objectifications of movements of people or religious ideas (e.g. Childe 1957), territorial markers erected along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe as a result of population pressure (Renfrew 1973a, 1976), or a new set of ideas involving house symbolism (Hodder 1984, 1990; Bradley 1998) and the manipulation of the body and the dead (Thomas 1991, 1999a; Tilley 1996a) in various ways. Despite huge variety in the forms of these monuments at a European or even at a local scale of analysis it is always assumed that something broader links them together (for a discourse analysis see Tilley 1999: Chapter 3). The most significant general points about these monuments are (1) their durability and the manner in which they mark the landscape and relate to it; (2) the variability in their architectural forms; (3) the burials and artefact deposits found in and around them. The first two points have been discussed above and we will now consider the third.

Monumentality and Death

A close connection has been suggested between different ways of treating the dead and the architectural forms of Neolithic megalithic monuments. Often the dead were buried in sealed chambers in the earlier monuments. Many of these were single burials of intact bodies. Later monuments were constructed so as to permit access to the burial chamber via a shorter or longer passage. In these monuments collective burial was practised of unfleshed bones. This involved the selection, disarticulation, arrangement and rearrangement of bones in various ways (see e.g. Edmonds 1999; Jones 1998; Fowler 2001; Richards 1988; Shanks and Tilley 1982; Thomas 2000) Some of the ‘absent’ or ‘missing’ bones were taken out of these monuments to circulate as relics among the living or deposited in other monuments in a variety of ancestor rites (see e.g. Barrett 1988; Bradley 1998; Thomas 1991, 1999a; Tilley 1996a). The practice of collective burial has been variously interpreted—as a sign of an egalitarian society in which the individual on death becomes dissolved into the social body, as an ideological representation masking social inequalities in life (Shanks and Tilley 1982), or as citations of different types of personal relations in life, indicating agency as ‘partible’ or ‘fractual’ in which personal identity is in a continuous process of contextualization, as argued by Strathern (1988) in relation to Melanesia (Fowler 2001).

Homologies have been argued to exist between the treatment and circulation of human bones and the deposition of artefacts. Tilley notes that elaborately decorated pottery and stone axes were smashed up and sacrificed outside the entrances to Scandinavian passage graves, being disarticulated and rearranged in a comparable manner to the skeletal remains inside the tombs. These artefacts were ‘persons’ that were destroyed and turned into ‘corpses’ of their original forms (Tilley 1996a: 315 ff.). Edmonds has made similar arguments in relation to the deposition of artefacts in earlier British Neolithic monuments (Edmonds 1999: 124 ff.) while Thomas has argued that the circulation of people between places and monuments and the circulation of bones and artefacts were homologous in a variety of ways. For example, the ‘quarrying and depositing of artefacts, extraction and backfilling of monumental building materials … amounts to a set of relations of reciprocity with the earth itself in which extractive labour and acts of deposition brought meaning to place’ (Thomas 1999b: 76). He contrasts the earlier Neolithic pattern with that in the later Neolithic, where contexts for social action multiplied and became mutually exclusive, objectified in a very different ‘economy of substances and depositions’ (Thomas 1996: Chapter 6).

A shift from Neolithic collective burials to individual burials under barrows and cairns in the early Bronze Age of Britain has been elegantly interpreted by Barrett as a movement from ancestor rituals to funerary rites (Barrett 1988, 1991, 1994). The two, he argues, are quite distinct in terms of their organization and purposes. The former bring the living into the presence of the ancestral dead located in special places—megalithic monuments. These rites need not necessarily involve fresh interments but presence ancestral remains in relation to the social strategies of the living. The architecture of these monuments including forecourts and accessible chambers containing ancestral bones, provided spaces for the congregation of the living and places for the deposition of offerings. It was during the Bronze Age that the landscape became filled up with thousands of round barrows and cairns many of which covered a single primary act of body interment. The funerary rituals associated with these places were explicitly concerned with the burial of the deceased and the realignment of social relations among the living. These graves represent the concluding moment in a complex series of funerary rituals and symbolically sever the ties between the living and the dead. Burial was thus a means of forgetting. Subsequently fresh burials, often cremations, might be inserted in the mound or cairn or others built in its vicinity leading to the development of a barrow cemetery. In each case these subsequent events related back to the first burial so that genealogical lines of descent could be traced in, for example, the spatial distribution of barrow lines or clusters. Barrett links these changes in burial practice to different ways of inhabiting the landscape, much more mobile and fleeting during the Neolithic, much more fixed and tenurial during the Bronze Age. In the Neolithic the ancestral dead were co-present with the living, during the Bronze Age they became part of the past, placing them in a genealogical relationship to the living. While this interpretation remains excellent as a general model it necessarily ignores and cannot cope with the enormous variability in the Neolithic and Bronze Age mortuary practices being discussed (Thomas 2000: 658 ff.) nor the distinctive regional relationships of the barrows and cairns to the landscape. (For recent work see Tilley 1996a, 1999: Chapter 6; Tilley 2004a,b; Woodward 2000; Exon et al. 2000.)

Monumentality, Time and Memory

Earlier ‘processual’ functionalist models of monument types attempted to slot and identify them in relation to an evolution of social types. So while long barrows and megalithic monuments and causewayed enclosures might represent small-scale segmentary ‘lineage’ type societies, henges were linked with the evolution of hierarchy and ranking in the form of chiefdoms (Renfrew 1973). For Barrett (1994) and others (e.g. Edmonds 1999; Thomas 1996) by contrast, monuments do not passively reflect changing social relations, they actively serve to produce those relations or bring them into being. Barrett succinctly puts it this way:

architecture structures the possible dispositions employed between those who inhabit its spaces. It creates the physical conditions of a locale which are drawn upon by practices which, in turn, sustain their meanings by reference to the conditions which they occupy. Architecture is a material technology enabling the regionalization of a place to emerge through practice, creating different categories and moments of being. (Barrett 1994: 18)

Monument construction may have had intended consequences in terms of the effects it had on people. It also almost certainly had unintended effects on social practices. Interpretations of the structural sequences of monuments such as Stonehenge and Avebury (e.g. Cleal et al. 1995; Bender 1998; Bradley 1998; Pollard and Reynolds 2002; Whittle 1997) or Maltese temples (Tilley 2004a) have shown they were constantly being modified and altered and were often left unfinished. They were not realized and planned in the mind first and then constructed on the ground. Their architecture provided both ‘affordances’ and constraints which were modified through time in a continual dialectic between persons, practices and material structures.

Monuments are often fundamental to the persistence and direction of social memory, frames for the inscription and reproduction of social values. They can also be means of forgetting and reworking social relations. Edmonds puts it this way:

recruited by the living, they can change in form and significance. They can bolster ideas or positions far removed from those which held sway at their first construction. They can even become a focus for competing visions of the order of things. At the same time, they retain a sense of the timeless and eternal. The assertion of new values often goes hand in hand with the evocation of continuity, of an unbroken line between present and past. (Edmonds 1999: 134)

His book is an outstanding exploration of these ideas in relation to the earlier British Neolithic monuments and causewayed enclosures in particular. Bradley (2002) has written an intriguing study of how past monuments might have been understood in the past. Ancient monuments would, of course, have been visible in the past, as they are today. How might people in the past have experienced and understood their past and how might they have used it as a resource to construct their future? They could be ignored, destroyed, reworked, renewed or reinterpreted in various ways, for example the ruins of earlier structures could be used in creating later ones or earlier structures incorporated in new monuments in new ways to create new structures of experience, as can be seen, for example in the relationship between Bronze Age stone rows and reaves (linear boundary systems), cairns and houses on Dartmoor (Bradley 2002: Chapter 3).


From the Neolithic onwards monuments and memorials have littered the landscapes of the past, and the present. Their material endurance is clearly fundamental to their power and significance. There are two major aspects to this: that which they signify, or can be interpreted to signify, and the effects their very material presence has in relation to persons, groups, nation states, etc. A key concept is memory, although mediated by current debates on its alienated associations with modernity. There are, of course, many cultures in the past and the present which have no need to publicly objectify their identities in this manner. These are exclusively cultures without history in the modernist sense and documented archaeologically and ethnographically To characterize such cultures as somehow possessing authentic and non-alienated memory, and thus having no need for monuments, is clearly inadequate. To further complicate matters, cultures ‘without history’ also erect and use monuments. We still have a poor comparative understanding of why it becomes necessary to erect monuments in different social and historical circumstances. To simply link their construction to crises of legitimation, whatever form these might take, is an all too easy generalization. Perhaps part of the problem may arise from our own rather restricted cultural definition of what monuments are. Landscapes, or humanly unaltered features of those landscapes, such as significant hills, large trees, deep valleys, etc., might themselves be considered to be monuments: so why ‘improve’, alter or, quite literally, build on them? A mimetic relationship between artefact and landscape may be part of the answer here in some circumstances: one draws attention to that which is already there and emphasizes it. Alternatively monuments may be significant by drawing attention towards themselves and away from the landscapes of which they are a part. They may thus gather together or differentiate place. They may also punctuate time by a stress on events, and the event of their own construction, or alternatively suggest the endless, the repetitive and the cyclical. The ways in which pyramids, classical temple architecture and other monumental forms continue to be reused as either replication or pastiche suggests a potency for decontextualized forms regardless of apparent meaning. Thinking about these relationships and how they relate to the individuality (or otherwise) of the material form of monuments and memorials ought to be a significant direction for research.

Another problem area, comparatively little considered, concerns the relationship between public and official discourses and the private and the personal. How do the former mediate the latter and vice versa? and how does the tangible heritage of monuments and memorials and performances using them intersect with the ‘intangible’ heritage of dance, and song, clothing, body decoration, etc.? For example, exactly what are the social, moral and political implications of UNESCO designating certain monuments and places as world heritage sites today and then discovering, in retrospect, that many nations or cultures apparently have none?

The entanglement of monuments and memorials with shifting social identities is no more obvious than in post-socialist societies and the postcolonial world with various attempts to incorporate, appropriate, destroy or simply abandon and neglect the monuments of the past. We need further comparative ethnographic study of what happens, and how, in these very different contexts. To what extent does these very different histories relate to similar or different relationships to different types of monuments from the past today: graveyards, buildings, public sculptures, parks and gardens?