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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Bones examined in settler mystery
Bronze Age bones
It is hoped the research will provide information about early settlers
The lives of what are thought to be the first prehistoric settlers in north-east Scotland are to be examined in a Europe-wide research programme.

Aberdeen University is sending 23 skeletons from its collection to Sheffield University where they will be analysed with the latest technology.

The research will concentrate on a little-known race of Bronze Age settlers called the Beaker People.

It is thought they may have introduced metalwork to Britain 4,000 years ago.

They may also have built many of the country's stone circles, including Stonehenge.

This time we're actually going to find out more about the people
Neil Curtis
Marischal Museum

The race got its name from the clay pots or beakers they buried with their dead, suggesting an early belief in the afterlife.

Researchers believe they sailed into Scotland across the North Sea from Scandinavia.

Scientists want to know if they were a peaceful tribe who shared their knowledge or warmongers who fought their way across Britain and the continent.

Sheffield University scientist Dr Andrew Chamberlain, who is leading research into the settlers, said: "We do see evidence for conflict, warfare if you like, at this time.

Bones with beakers
The Beaker People were buried alongside clay pots

"A real question is that there were farmers there already when the Beaker People arrived, so if they did arrive as immigrants, what was the reception?

"Were they welcomed, were they viewed with suspicion or hostility?"

The Beakers are thought to have erected stone circles at sites like Cullerlie, near Aberdeen, but where the people came from has never been answered.

Dr Chamberlain said his study would examine small differences in the material in the bones and teeth of relics.

He explained: "A skeleton is made up of the food that you eat and the water that you drink.

Significant collection

"This has a distinctive chemical signature which can be used to track down where people were born and where they lived the majority of their lives."

Aberdeen University Marischal Museum has gathered one of the finest collection of Beaker People remains in the world over the past 100 years.

Senior curator Neil Curtis said he hoped to find out a lot of detail about individual lives.

He said: "The people who were alive then were buried in graves a bit like the one we have in Marischal Museum, in which the body was laid curled up, as if asleep, with a beaker next to it.

"Often in the past we've looked at the pots and tried to work out what they're like, what styles they are, how they compare with other ones, but this time we're actually going to find out more about the people."

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