THEY lived at the dawn of time, and take their names from objects uncovered in their graves by archaeologists thousands of years later.

And now a fresh study of the artefacts left behind by the Beaker people has shed new light on how their ideas and customs spread among ancient Scots living in the north east 4,500 years ago.

The Beaker People are said to be part of a cultural and technological explosion which swept over northern Europe, identified by the distinctive decorated pottery beakers which were placed in their graves.

Authors Neil Curtis, head of museums at the University of Aberdeen, and Neil Wilkin, curator of the British and European Bronze Age collections at the British Museum, looked at earlier work which examined the "unusual" concentration of Beaker graves clustered between Inverness and Aberdeen and down the east coast and the items they contained.

They found that the Beaker period was shorter than that elsewhere in Europe, and that beakers found in many of the graves were decorated with a white powder made from ground up bones - something that appears to be unique to the north east.

The appearance of beakers at burial sites was also tied to the building of distinct stone circles which can be found in the area, and which were revealed to date from the same period.

The authors state: "Much to people's surprise, these megalithic monuments were not neolithic, but a younger and local development contemporary with the region's Beaker burials.

"Elsewhere in Britain people spent great energy on building barrow mounds and funerary monuments, suck as the Clava Cairns in the neighbouring Moray Firth region.

"But in north-east Scotland, communities focussed their collective and ceremonial attentions on recumbent stone circles. Suddenly, there was an exciting new dimension to the puzzle of how and why north-east Scotland adopted new and international customs."

Examples of Beaker burials in Scotland include the case of 'Ava', the name given to a woman whose remains were discovered at Achavanich in Caithness in 1987 during road works.

She is the subject of a long-term research project managed by archaeologist Maya Hoole, and last year forensic artist Hew Morrison, a graduate of the University of Dundee, created a detailed digital reconstruction of what she may have looked like based on her bone structure.

The graves east examined by Mr Wilkin and Mr Curtis follow a distinct pattern, with male remains typically placed on their left side and their heads facing the east, while women were put on their right side with their heads facing west.

A large number of the female burials were found also include those of infants, indicating the dangers of childbirth in the early Bronze Age.

While it may appear isolated on a map, this part of Scotland was a major hub during the Bronze Age, with trade travelling up the great Great Glen and sea links to the Netherlands and the east coast of Britain.

The area was an important centre for making bronze, using materials imported from as far away as Cornwall and Ireland, and flint deposits in Buchan means it was rich in resources exploited by the early Scots.

Curtis and Watkins believe that there is a link between the metalwork, stone circles and decorated beakers, which becomes clear when the artefacts are examined together.

They say: "We now understand they were part of the same story. All three involved expert skills and the careful selection of raw materials, and they all manifested repetition of particular patterns, colour, order and spatial alignments not seen anywhere else in Britain."

They added : "The new ideas, technologies and innovations associated with Beaker pottery weren't imposed on existing communities in north-east Scotland.

"Rather, they appear to have been part of a productive meeting of minds during a few centuries of remarkable creativity."