14. As prehistoric time progressed, ancestor worship became a major religious obsession for the ancient British, and they began to build houses for the dead.
Between 4400-3300 BC, the Neolithic revolution reached Europe and the practice of agriculture finally established itself in Britain. British hunter-gatherers began to settle down as crops and livestock tied them to their land. However, at the same time, a series of stone or turf mounds began to appear all over the British landscape, stretching from the highlands and islands of Scotland right down to the South coast of what would eventually be known as England. These mounds, known collectively as chamber tombs had a very particular function: they were houses for the dead.
The community of the dead within chamber tombs was pretty exclusive. Although archaeologists have discovered the bones of men, women and children, the numbers suggest the burial chambers only housed specially chosen individuals. Exactly how or why their community selected these particular individuals is a mystery. However, axe blows found on some of the skulls suggest that not everyone died of natural causes. However they died, the remains of those selected underwent special preparations before internment. Their bodies were exposed in an outdoor mortuary enclosure until they were utterly de-fleshed. Then, their skeletons were disarticulated, and the bones added to others of their type within the tomb.
Archaeologists believe these barrows represent a community of ancestors whose role was to guard and protect their tribe and land. The tombs may have acted as boundary markers for the tribe’s territory, suggesting that Neolithic Britains believed their dead would police the borders of their land and keep harm and invaders out. However, many of the tombs also had forecourts where the community could assemble as particular times of the year, suggesting the ancestors were also called upon to help ensure a bountiful harvest- or stave off foul weather that could blight the crops.