Stonehenge Builders Loved Barbecue, Hinting Nearby Village Was Neolithic Party Central

Two miles away from Stonehenge lies a village now called Durrington Walls, which was a bustling place 4,500 years ago. Whoever laid the stone at the mysterious site, they may have lived in this village and based on evidence found there, archaeologists are learning that these builders loved to party.

They particularly enjoyed barbecues, shunning vegetables in favor of beef, pork, and dairy. Remnants of these massive feasts also hints that Stonehenge may have been the site of many community feasts, Smithsonian reported.

These barbeques were huge and highly organized, which is unusual for this time period. Neolithic Britons hauled in animals from all over the region and cooked certain animals in certain pots, hinting at a ritual purpose, Discover added.

“Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls,” said archaeologist Mike Pearson, who led the excavation in the ancient village.

Durrington Walls, northeast of Stonehenge, is a C-shaped, earthen berm inhabited while the monument was being built, about 2700 to 2300 BC, New Scientist added. The site is littered with mounds of waste called middens, and pits filled with animal bones and fragments of pottery.

It may have been Neolithic Europe’s largest settlement. Possibly housing the people who built Stonehenge, the residents would’ve had to drag stones weighing 50 metric tons on sledges dozens of miles. And when they were finished a long, hard day of work, the isolated farm villages that dotted the area around Stonehenge gathered at Durrington for massive barbecues.

Evidence suggests the two sites — Stonehenge and its nearby village — were very different in tone and purpose, said archaeologist Oliver Craig.

“This is something special and different. It’s not like your everyday settlement site. That’s more a somber monument, whereas Durrington Walls is this place where all the activity happens, a party centre if you like, where people are coming to consume food, organize themselves and start active relationships with each other.”

The evidence of massive community barbecues comes from a series of animal bones and the pots in which they were cooked. The bones and food remains still stuck to the pottery fragments were found in the village’s residential and ceremonial areas and revealed these Neolithic barbecues were comprised most of pigs, cows, and dairy — no vegetarian options. And different foods were prepped in different pots. For example, dairy was found on specific shards found in ceremonial areas, so consumption of milk and cheese may have had some ritual purpose.

Photo Courtesy konstantinks / Shutterstock

The pigs, which were prominent in these barbecues, were killed before one year of age. This also suggests a ceremonial purpose, perhaps their inclusion in an autumn or winter feasts for people in the area; normally, pigs are killed when they’re fully sized at age two. Another interesting piece of evidence: the village had no remnants of newborn animal bones, suggesting the creatures slaughtered there weren’t raised there.

Archaeologists analyzed the cow bones and determined that they came from all over the country, including Cornwall, Wales, and Northern England.

The evidence doesn’t hint at how the villagers cooked the animals or the purpose of the mass community barbecues. Some options are ancestor worship, caring for the dead, or exchanging information. One theory the findings do support: Stonehenge may have been a feast site.

At the very least, the barbecues provided a sense of community for the isolated villages that lived in the area 4,500 years ago, Craig added.

“Feasting and food is something that’s really drawing people together and allowing them to participate in these dynamic relationships.”

[Photo Courtesy Roger Nichol / Shutterstock]