The plan of the builder of Stonehenge is riddled

Analyzes of Stone Age food arrivals contain surprisingly structured banquets

Stonehenge and the neighboring Stone Age monuments were the scene of great festivals and ceremonies © Pipop Boosarakumwadi / thinkstock
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Suckling pig for the feast and milk for the rituals: The builders of Stonehenge already had a surprisingly well-organized "catering", as shown by analyzes of bones and food residues in ceramic vessels. According to this, visitors brought pigs and other animals from far away to eat together at large festivals. Dairy products, on the other hand, were reserved for priests and rituals: they are found only at the ceremonial sites.

More than 5, 000 years ago, Stonehenge and its monuments served as a place of festivals, rituals and possibly astronomical observations. Archaeologists suspect that people came from far away to celebrate at this ceremonial place and in neighboring Durrington Walls. However, how these celebrations took place and what was eaten there remained unknown.

Leftovers and bones

Now, however, Oliver Craig of the University of York and his colleagues have gained new insights into the culinary habits of Stonehenge builders. For their study, archaeologists had analyzed animal bones and food debris in hundreds of pottery fragments found in Durrington Walls and the surrounding area. From them they could reconstruct what the Stone Age people ate.

"This gave us fantastic insight into the large-scale festivals that celebrated the builders of Stonehenge, " says project leader Mike Pearson of University College London. And it brought surprising things to light. For the Stone Age people had a surprisingly organized "catering" for that time.

Shard of a Neolithic clay pot found in Durrington Walls Feeding Stonehenge Project / University of York

Pork for the mass festivals

Meat was mainly eaten in the areas where visitors lived and camped. The almost complete animal skeletons indicate that the animals were brought to Stonehenge and Durrington Walls alive and then mass slaughtered on the spot, most were pigs. The age of the pigs at the time of their death also suggests that most of these mass slaughter took place in the spring and fall in keeping with the big festivals. display

"Animals were brought in from all over Britain to be cooked and cooked in huge open-air barbecues over the fire, " says Pearson. "This meat was also consumed in the settlement of Durrington Walls." Residuals in clay pots prove the cooking of the meat, while traces of fire on some bones for grilling Talk about the open fire. Unusually also: Vegetable food was contrary to other habits of that time at these festivals apparently hardly consumed.

Dairy products for ceremonies

In contrast, vascular fragments from the ceremonial sites contained hardly any meat residues, but more often residues of dairy products. The archologists conclude that milk, yoghurt, and cheese were foods reserved for special, ritual purposes. Due to its white color, milk is still considered a symbol of purity in some natural peoples. This may also have been the case with the visitors and builders of Stonehenge.

"The discovery of dairy cows in the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain foods had a ritual significance beyond mere nutritional value, " says Pearson. Dairy products at these festivals may have been reserved for selected priests or the leaders of the various tribes. "Sharing food has both religious and social significance and could have served to unify the widely distributed farming communities in the UK, " the researcher speculates.

Surprisingly well organized

All in all, the new findings speak for a surprising, highly structured distribution of food during festivals and rituals around Stonehenge. "The results show a far greater degree of culinary organization than we would have expected for this period of British history, " says Craig. "The inhabitants and many visitors to these sites knew how to prepare, consume and distribute the food."

The findings also show that the organization of the mass festivals must have required a large number of volunteers. They probably arrived before the beginning of the festivities together with pigs and other food from near and far. As the researchers explain, these were probably not slaves because the pattern of celebrations did not fit into a system of forced labor. (Antiquity, 2015; doi: 10.15184 / aqy.2015.110)

(University of York, 14.10.2015 - NPO)