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Stonehenge builders’ diet habits revealed at exhibition

Milk played an important symbolic role in feasting ceremonies held by the prehistoric community.

The builders of Stonehenge feasted on pigs and cattle transported from as far away as north-east Scotland, a new exhibition at the Neolithic site shows.

Milk also played an important symbolic role in feasting ceremonies held by the prehistoric community who built the monument 4,500 years ago, but as they were lactose intolerant they had to turn milk into cheese and yogurt to eat it, experts said.

Part of the Feast! Food at Stonehenge exhibition. (Clare Kendall/PA)

Highlights from the Feast! Food at Stonehenge exhibition include the skull of an aurochs, an extinct species of wild cattle with huge horns and a rare complete Bronze cauldron dating from 700BC, which would have formed a centrepiece of feasts.

The exhibition at Stonehenge, which allows visitors to find out about the diet and lifestyle of people who built and used it, also features a nearly complete and beautifully decorated grooved ware pot used in the preparation of pork and beef dishes.

Living History re-enactors Mark and Jill Hatch inside a Neolithic house during a preview for the Feast! Food at Stonehenge exhibition (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The displays reveal research and stories from the “feeding Stonehenge” project, which has been exploring the lives of the people who lived at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls, in the late Neolithic period, English Heritage said.

Thousands of discarded animal bones and teeth excavated at Durrington Walls suggest it was not a typical village but a site of major feasting and ceremony, at which large amounts of beef and pork were eaten.

Isotope analysis of the pig and cattle teeth reveal people were bringing some of the animals from as far as 500 miles away, suggesting Stonehenge was known across Britain and people journeyed to help build the monument and take part in feasts.

Part of the Feast! Food at Stonehenge exhibition. (Clare Kendall/PA)

Pottery found at Durrington Walls also shows the people living there used larger grooved ware pots to cook meat stews and smaller vessels for processing dairy products.

The dairy pots were found concentrated at a timber ceremonial circle at Durrington Walls, suggesting milk played an important and symbolic role, though people had to turn it into low-lactose products such as yogurt or cheese to eat it.

Susan Greany, English Heritage historian, said: “Our exhibition explores the important role feasts and food played at Stonehenge.

“Raising the ancient stones was an incredible feat but so too was feeding the army of builders – our exhibition reveals just how this was done.”

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