A reconstruction depicting how the row of megalithic stones would have looked.

Feeding Stonehenge: Hearty Menu for Monument Builders Revealed - Barbeque Pork, Roast Beef, Yogurt and Cheeses


Remnants of delicious barbeque-style feasts at a major Neolithic settlement in the UK have revealed that pork roasts, milk, yogurt and cheeses were on the menu for the prehistoric builders of Stonehenge. The wealth of foods brought in from afar show that the feasts had both ritual and social significance, and indicate that the builders weren’t slaves forced into work.

The food choices and eating habits of the people at a prehistoric site near Stonehenge have been revealed by the discovery of animal bones and pottery fragments. The prehistoric site, Durrington Walls, is a Late Neolithic settlement believed to be the nearby residence for the builders of the Stonehenge stone monument during the 2500 BC, according to a press release from the University of York.

Stonehenge, Whiltshire, England.

Stonehenge, Whiltshire, England. (Diego Delso/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

The research team comprised of archaeologists from the University of York, University College London (UCL), and University of Sheffield in UK unearthed evidence of mass animal consumption, especially pig, as well as beef and varied dairy products.

Far from seeming to be a slave-based society where labor was coerced, as has been speculated in past, the new evidence points to “organized feasts featuring barbeque-style roasting,” and a well-fed population.

Barbeque Meat Fest

Remains from animals were unearthed, many of them were killed before reaching full growth, providing compelling evidence of a feast which was planned for autumn and winter.

As the complete skeletons were present, the animals are thought to have been walked to the site and then slaughtered, rather than being butchered remotely and carried in as joints of meat. Cattle had come from many different locations across Britain, some far away. There were distinctive burn markings on some of the animal bones showing they were roasted on a fire outdoors, while other cooking methods included boiling in pots in indoor hearths.

It is believed all this would require many volunteers to organize the logistics of bringing in the food and animals.

Detail, Part of several hundred found pottery sherds from Durrington Wall. It is marked as "The Beasts Wife" by archaeologists.

Detail, Part of several hundred found pottery sherds from Durrington Wall. It is marked as "The Beasts Wife" by archaeologists. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

UCL reports that dairy products, such as cottage cheese, yogurt and curds-and-whey were detected in residues in pots across the site. Dairy foods were present more frequently in ceremonial monuments, indicating they held a significant status. Researchers believe these might have marked social status or were symbols of purity consumed during public ceremonies.

Little evidence of plant-based meals were located at the site. Researchers found the burnt remains of nuts and wild fruits such as berries or crab apples, but no cooking greens or vegetables were located at what is described as a “meat fest”.

Community Organization

The origins and types of foods prepared at the prehistoric settlement has given archaeologists “insight into the organization of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge,” says Professor Mike Parker Pearson, UCL Institute of Archaeology and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project.

“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,” said Pearson.

Lead author of the study published in the journal Antiquity, Dr. Oliver E. Craig said, “Evidence of food-sharing and activity-zoning at Durrington Walls shows a greater degree of culinary organization than was expected for this period of British prehistory. The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed and disposed.  This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organized working community,” reports the University of York.

Durrington Walls

Sunrise at the Durrington Walls reconstruction.

Sunrise at the Durrington Walls reconstruction. (Creative Commons Fair Use)

The Neolithic settlement of Durrington Walls is located around 2 miles (3 kilometers) north-east of the famous prehistoric monument Stonehenge.  It is thought to have been home to the builders around 2500 BC.

Map showing Durrington Walls and Stonehenge at the Avebury World Heritage Site.

Map showing Durrington Walls and Stonehenge at the Avebury World Heritage Site. (Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right / CC BY 3.0)

Durrington Walls had monumental standing stone wall reaching up to 30 feet (nine meters) high, as well as circles of wood. Excavations have revealed seven houses, but it’s believed there was room for as many as 1,000 houses judging by the size of the walled enclosure. For a brief period it may have been the largest village in northern Europe.

MailOnline reports there are a few vital differences between the two prehistoric sites; Durrington Walls was a place of habitation and feasting, and Stonehenge wasn’t. Stonehenge has only offered up 11 pot fragments, while more than 11,000 sherds have been found at Durrington.

The extraordinary Durrington site continues to surprise researchers after a major discovery this year when an enormous row of 90 megalithic stones was found buried beneath the earthworks. A huge line of megalithic stones sits three feet underground and was discovered through the use of sophisticated radar equipment.

The lush landscape of the prehistoric Durrington Walls site.

The lush landscape of the prehistoric Durrington Walls site. (Public Domain)

The unexpected archaeological finds at Durrington Walls are fleshing out the lives and diets of prehistoric Britains, providing a detailed picture of the beliefs, cuisines, and architecture of the past.

Featured Image: A reconstruction depicting how the row of megalithic stones would have looked. Credit: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute.

By Liz Leafloor

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Open Book Photo
A legend is a tale regarded as historical even though it has not been proven, and the term “myth” can refer to common yet false ideas. Many myths and legends describe our history, but they are often treated skeptically. This is because many of them, while explaining a phenomenon, involve divine or supernatural beings.

Human Origins

Sky Burial: Tibet’s Ancient Tradition for Honoring the Dead
The tradition of Sky burials, which is also known by the name of ‘Celestial burial’, is particularly associated with the Tibetan culture, although it has existed in other civilizations throughout history.

Ancient Technology

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article