Parasites in Poop Near Stonehenge Reveal Secrets of Prehistoric Diets

Stonehenge builders probably should have cooked their animal organs more thoroughly.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
Stonehenge in the sun

The builders of Stonehenge left behind some fascinating feces.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

If you were a builder of Stonehenge living in the nearby Durrington Walls settlement back around 2500 BC, your dinner might have consisted of cow organs and your dog might have helped you polish off the leftovers.

An analysis of ancient feces dating back 4,500 years is providing some fascinating insights into the diets of the people who likely built the iconic Stonehenge monument. The fancier name for the preserved poop is "coprolite." A team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge investigated 19 pieces of coprolite excavated from a dung heap and discovered eggs from parasitic worms in one sample of human feces and four of dog feces.

Human coprolite next to a rule measuring it
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Human coprolite next to a rule measuring it

Human coprolite from Durrington Walls near Stonehendge.

Lisa-Marie Shillito

Previous research suggests Durrington Walls was occupied seasonally and hosted winter feasts. "This is the first time intestinal parasites have been recovered from Neolithic Britain, and to find them in the environment of Stonehenge is really something," said archaeologist Piers Mitchell in a University of Cambridge statement on Thursday. Mitchel is lead author of a study on the feces published in the journal Parasitology this week.

The study details how some of the coprolites, including one human sample, contained the eggs of capillariid worms, likely transferred from infected cows. "The evidence of capillariid eggs in human feces indicates that the person had eaten the raw or undercooked lungs or liver from an already infected animal, resulting in the parasite's eggs passing straight through the body," the university said. The presence of the eggs in dog coprolites indicates the canine residents of Durrington Walls also snacked on offal.

Though Stonehenge has been the subject of intense study for a long time, researchers are still turning up new information about the site. Pieces of Stonehenge may have been taken from another monument and lard may have been a secret ingredient used to help transport large stones. 

The worm eggs show how preserved poop can provide a peek into the diets of the people who were around as Stonehenge took shape, filling in part of the human puzzle connected to one of the world's most iconic and mysterious monuments.