Stonehenge builders barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings: Study

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Researchers, by combination of pottery analysis and study of animal bones, have suggested that Stonehenge builders may have barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings.

Researchers at Universities of York and Sheffield carried out detailed analysis of pottery and animal bones excavated from Durrington Walls – a site that is believed to be residence of Stonehenge builders during the 25th century BC. Their analysis revealed evidence that the Stonehenge builders were likely to be a well-organised community that may have arranged feasts featuring barbeque-style roasting, and mass gatherings.

The study, published in journal Antiquity, saw researchers carry out chemical analysis of food residues found on several hundred fragments of pottery. Researchers found that Late Neolithic people used pots in different ways. Analysis revealed that pots in residential setting may have been used to cook animal products including pork, beef and dairy, and on the other hand pots found at spaces believed to be of ceremonial importance were mostly used for dairy products.

Researchers say that this could mean that dairy products including milk, yoghurts and cheeses may have been perceived with exclusivity consumed by a select few, or that milk products – today often regarded as a symbol of purity – were used in public ceremonies.

Researchers believe that the special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings may have held a ritual significance with sharing of food carrying a religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory.

Another thing that researchers noticed that there almost no evidence of plant food preparations. Researchers say that almost all evidence that they have uncovered point at mass animal consumption, predominantly of pigs. Based on analysis of bones, researchers suggest that many pigs were killed before reaching their maximum weight pointing ot planned autumn and winter slaughtering and feasting-like consumption. Bone analysis also revealed that boiling and roasting in pots were the two main methods of cooking meat. Distinctive burn patterns on animal bones also revealed that the Stonehenge builders may have carried out larger barbeque-style roasting outdoors.

The study also found evidence of large mass gatherings suggesting that food-sharing and activity-zoning may have been frequent at Durrington Walls and this points to a greater degree of culinary organisation 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-organised working community”, said Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York and lead author on the paper.