Photo: Bettina Schulz Paulsson


Research project
Active research
Project size
15 million SEK
Project period
2020 - ongoing
Project owner
Department of Historical studies

Short description

The NEOSEA project will investigate Neolithic seafaring and the maritime technologies that shaped a new interconnected world of megalithic societies.

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More about NEOSEA

In Europe, most of the approximately 35,000 still remaining megaliths ((derived from the Old Greek μέγας (mégas) big and λίϑος (líthos) stone), including megalithic graves and standing stones, were constructed between 4500-2500 cal BC. Recent research into megalithic mobility and symbols suggest that the rise of long-distance sea journeys began in Europe as early as the megalithic era. Megaliths emerged in Northwest France and then spread over the seaways along Europe’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

This new discovery leads to NEOSEA’s core hypothesis that maritime journeys and new skills in shipbuilding and navigation arose in Europe much earlier than, as previously thought, in the Bronze Age.

Specific goals of the NEOSEA project are:

  • to determine prehistoric maritime linkages and migrations; 
  • to define the emergence of monumental stone architecture within hunter-gatherer societies in Brittany; 
  • to model the spread of megaliths in Europe with pioneering chronological precision (within 20-50y);
  • to synthesize a model of the social and economic organization of megalithic seafaring communities; and 
  • to interpret these findings within a comparative global ethnographic framework.

To achieve these goals, I will compile available human bone samples from early megalithic contexts across Europe for radiocarbon dates, using: (1) ancient DNA (aDNA) and strontium/oxygen isotope analyses and (2) the novel extraction of environmental DNA (eDNA) from sediments at the earliest megalithic sites in Northwest France lacking bone preservation.

The application of Bayesian statistical modelling on eDNA, aDNA and strontium/oxygen analysis coupled with a large database of radiocarbon dates will produce the first closely detailed sequence for the rise of seafaring megalithic societies and their spread across Europe.

ERC and EU logo
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 949424)


Archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson has been awarded one of the most prestigious grants an early-career European researcher can get – the ERC Starting Grant. This grant gives her more than SEK 15 million for a research project on seafaring megalithic societies of more than 6000 years ago.