It’s said that an army marches on its stomach, but what about those building ancient stone monuments? Well, it seems that those who hauled the massive rocks that make up Stonehenge in southern England were a hungry bunch. A new study has detailed how the community of Durrington Walls living near the monument, which is generally thought to have housed those who built Stonehenge, were feasting on barbecue pork and beef.
Sifting through rubbish pits, also known as middens, might not sound like an enjoyable activity, but for archaeologists it can reveal a lot about the habits of the people who created them. For example, by analyzing the bones of animals found in the pits, as well as the residues left on pottery, researchers from the University of York and University College London were able to work out exactly what the inhabitants of Durrington Walls were eating.
The animal bones were dominated by those from pigs, with a few from cattle thrown in for good measure. The burn patterns on the bones suggest that the animals were roasted over fires, while animal fats found on the inside of household pots show that they probably boiled some of the meat too. What was distinctly lacking, however, was any evidence of plant matter in the food, which is normally found at other Neolithic sites. This implies that the people living and building the monument over a period of around 30 years were eating incredibly well and feasting on predominantly meat.
The bones also reveal that the animals that were slaughtered came from far and wide, with some of the livestock thought to have come from Cornwall, Wales, and even northern England. The researchers think that Durrington Walls acted like a central hub, with people coming from all over to socialize, feast, and pay respect to the gods. This is further evidenced by the fact that in the buildings presumed to have been temples, the researchers found that the pottery was dominated by residues from milk, cheese and butter. Even today, many cultures consider milk and dairy as foods of the gods due to its pure color.
“This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organization of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge,” says Mike Parker Pearson, who co-authored the study published in Antiquity. “The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone. The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory.”
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Durrington Walls also sat upon a vast “super-henge” that spans an impressive 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles), and is thought to be the largest Neolithic monument in Britain.