Chemical analysis of ancient ceramics is used as a means of identifying the place of origin (provenance) of the material. Because the variation in composition from place to place is often not very different from the variability within a site, accurate and comprehensive chemical analysis is needed, and careful multivariate statistical procedures have to be applied to reach reliable conclusions. In the present work, neutron activation analysis has been used to measure the concentrations of 26 chemical elements in over 550 samples of ceramics derived from the Bell Beaker culture. The accuracy of the sampling procedure and concentration measurements was tested by multiple analysis of individual samples. In addition to standard methods of multivariate analysis, a new procedure was developed and successfully used to reduce systematic errors such as differences in neutron flux and counting geometry between one sample and another. The composition of groups of ceramics of known local origin and contemporary with the Bell Beaker culture were compared with the Beakers themselves and other ceramics with a view to establish the degree to which this material had been exchanged or moved (for whatever reason) from its centre of production. In broad terms, the results indicated that most of the material was of local or near-local origin, so the similarities of the Bell Beakers represent a widely accepted cultural pattern, not necessarily involving actual physical transfer.