Exploring the feasting habits of Stonehenge builders

14 01 2010


The team who worked on the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2009 are to return to their findings to explain the eating habits of the people who built and worshipped at the stone circle over four thousand years ago. Once again led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from the University of Sheffield, the new ‘Feeding Stonehenge’ project will analyse a range of materials including cattle bones and plant residue.
At the time of the Winter Solstice experts believe people would have brought livestock with them to Stonehenge for a solstice feast. Initial research suggests the animals were brought considerable distances to the ceremonial site at this time of year. “One of the unforeseen outcomes (of the Stonehenge Riverside Project) is the vast quantity of new material – flint tools, animal bones, pottery, plant remains, survey data, and chemical samples – which now needs analysing,” explained Professor Parker Pearson. “We are going to know so much about the lives of the people who built Stonehenge – how they lived, what they ate, where they came from.”
A large collection of cattle jaws collected during the last few years’ excavations will now undergo strontium and sulphur isotope analysis to establish where they originally came from and when they were culled. This will give experts a better idea of where people had travelled from to visit the site. The research will also offer a better understanding of the dressing of the famous sarsen stones of Stonehenge and insights into how the public and private spaces at Durrington Walls and Stonehenge differ from each other. Researchers will also try and ascertain whether Britain’s Copper Age started 50 years earlier than first thought. Circumstantial evidence points to copper tools being in use at Durrington Walls earlier than originally thought. Cut-marks on animal bones should reveal whether they were made by copper daggers as opposed to flint tools.
“I’ve always thought when we admire monuments like Stonehenge, not enough attention has been given to who made the sandwiches and the cups of tea for the builders,” said Parker Pearson. “The logistics of the operation were extraordinary. Not just food for hundreds of people but antler picks, hide ropes, all the infrastructure needed to supply the materials and supplies needed. Where did they get all this food from? This is what we hope to discover.”
‘Feeding Stonehenge’, will take place over the next three years. Find out more about the Stonehenge Riverside Project at: http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/Stonehenge

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