The people who built Stonehenge had one hard job. If you want to know what it was like, try building a monument with heavy stones that came from miles away without a crane or an adjustable lumbar back brace.
Such taxing work should come with a well-deserved meal break, but what did people from this late Neolithic era eat for dinner? Researchers from the University of York in the UK may have finally cracked this yummy mystery.
Archaeologists digging at a site at Durrington Walls, believed to be the residential settlement of Stonehenge's builders, discovered artifacts such as pottery fragments and animal bones that reveal clues about the dietary habits and culinary choices of the people who built the giant stone monument. The findings appeared in a study published Thursday in the journal Antiquity.
Apparently, Stonehenge's builders were big fans of meat. Chemical analysis of the several hundred pot fragments discovered indicate the containers were used for preparing and cooking meat such as pork and beef, as well as some dairy-based foods. The pot fragments found at sites used for ceremonial purposes contained only traces of dairy. This could mean the people who built Stonehenge may have only made foods like yogurt and cheeses for ceremonial occasions -- or that they were only consumed by a select group of people.
"The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone," Mike Parker Pearson, a professor of British at University College London and director of the Feeding Stonehenge project, said in a statement. "The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain's scattered farming communities in prehistory. "
The animal bones also revealed some interesting details on the builder's meal choices. Archaeologists found very little evidence that these folks ate any plant foods. They boiled and roasted meat in pots for indoor cooking and grilled them on massive outdoor barbecues, a conclusion reached from the notable burn marks on the animal bones. Does this mean they were on some kind of prehistoric Atkins Diet?
Archaeologists also found all parts of these animals' skeletons at the dig site, indicating that these people walked their livestock to these sites rather than just slaughtering them elsewhere and taking the tastier parts back home. These large and hearty dietary patterns also seem to dispute some scientific claims that the people who built Stonehenge were part of a slave or forced labor system.
"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," said Oliver Craig, an archaeologist from the University of York who co-authored the study. "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."
This is the latest major archaeological find to come out of Durrington Walls. In September, archaeologists uncoveredalong the edge of Durrington Walls less than 2 miles from Stonehenge using ground-penetrating radar.
I hope this leads to another Indiana Jones epic. They could call it "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Epic Meal Time."