This thesis deals mainly with the Middle Neolithic period (ca. 3200-2300 BC) on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. The aim is to deepen the understanding of how the islanders related to their surroundings, to the landscape, to places, to objects, to animals and to humans, both living and dead. The archaeological material is studied downwards and up with a focus on practices, especially the handling and deposition of materials and objects in graves, within sites and in the landscape. The study is comparative and the Middle Neolithic is described in relation to the Early Neolithic and the Mesolithic period on the island.

From a long term perspective the island is presented as a region where strong continuity can be identified, regarding both way of life and economy. In contrast, substantial changes did occur through time regarding the islander’s conceptions of the world and of social relations. This in turn affected the way they looked upon the landscape, different sites and animals, as well as other human beings. During the Mesolithic, the islanders first saw it as possible to create their world, their micro-cosmos, wherever they were, and they saw themselves as living in symbiosis with seals. With time, though, they started to relate, to connect and to identify themselves with the island, its landscape and its material, with axe sites and a growing group identity as results. The growing group identity culminated during the Early Neolithic with a dualistic conception of the world and with ritualised depositions in border zones.

The Middle Neolithic is presented as a period when earlier boundaries were dissolved. This concerned, for example, boundaries towards the world around the islanders and they were no longer keeping themselves to their own sphere. At the same time individuals became socially important. It became accepted and also vital to give expression to personal identity, which was done through objects, materials and animals. Despite this, group identity continued to be an important part in their lives. This is most evident through the specific Pitted Ware sites, where the dead were also treated and buried. These places were sites for ritual and social practices, situated in visible, central and easy accessible locations, like gates in and out of the islands’ different areas. The dead were very important for the islanders. In the beginning of MN B they started to adopt aspects from the Battle Axe culture, but they never embraced Battle Axe grave customs. Instead they held on to the Pitted Ware way of dealing with the dead and buried, and to the Pitted Ware sites, through the whole period, with large burial grounds as a result.