Although a lot has been speculated about it over the years, Stonehenge remains one of the most mysterious monuments ever built. A new study, however, sheds more light on the kind of life led by the Neolithic people responsible for building this prehistoric henge. And it likely included sumptuous barbecue cookouts, with hundreds of revelers feasting on meals consisting primarily of meat.
For the research, published recently in the Antiquity journal, a group of archaeologists from the University of York and the University of Sheffeild conducted a thorough survey of Durrington Walls, in the southern part of England. Located only two miles from Stonehenge, the area was once the site of the largest Neolithic settlement in all of north Europe. Upon close inspection, the researchers came across evidence which suggests that the village held massive outdoor feasts, centered around roasting large amounts of meat, some 4,500 years ago. Speaking about the find, Mike Parker Pearson, a professor at University College London and the architect leading the excavation works, said:
This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organization of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge.
For such feasts, animals from across Britain were brought to Durrington Walls, in order to be butchered and barbecued over open fire or fire pits. When first uncovered back in 1966, the site of the settlement was found to house a wooden henge as well as several partially-carved sarsen stones similar to the ones erected at Stonehenge. Recent excavations revealed remains of prehistoric habitation, including potsherds, parts of the floors of nearly seven houses and animal bone fragments, thus leading the archaeologists to conclude that the ancient village once contained over 200 houses. Unlike Stonehenge, which was the burial ground for many people, the site at Durrington Walls showed no signs of funerary practices. Oliver Craig, a professor of archaeology at the University of York and the study’s co-author, added:
At certain times of the year — probably winter — thousands more people descended on the site from all around Britain to use the monumental spaces, perhaps bury their dead or do a ceremony that represent the dead or praise the dead somehow at Stonehenge. But they were undergoing feasting activities at Durrington Walls.
To delve deeper into the lifestyle of the builders of Stonehenge, the researchers examined the pottery shards, in an attempt to decipher the chemical composition of the traces of fat found on their surface. Most of these fats were derived from animals; a revelation that points to the belief that the villagers indulged in huge open-air barbecue feasts. Furthermore, pottery fragments retrieved from the ceremonial wooden henge at Durrington Walls contained traces of milk or some other kind of dairy product. The team explained:
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… Given the role of milk in so many cultures around the world as a symbol of purity and as a symbolic link between spiritual and earthly nourishment, it is perhaps no great surprise that such remains were deposited in front of this great timber circle.
Via: Mental Floss