Study using pig bones reveal Britons organised large-scale feasting, celebrations near Stonehenge

Pigs were the prime animal used in feasting and they provide the best indication of where the people who feasted at these sites came from as almost no human remains have been recovered.

Published: 15th March 2019 01:37 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th March 2019 01:37 PM   |  A+A-

People gather at the ancient stone circle Stonehenge, during the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, in Wiltshire. (File | AP)

People gather at the ancient stone circle Stonehenge, during the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, in Wiltshire. (File | AP)

By PTI

LONDON: Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the earliest large-scale celebrations in Britain -- with people and animals travelling hundreds of miles for prehistoric feasting rituals near the world-famous monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury.

The study, led by Cardiff University in the UK, is the most comprehensive to date and examined the bones of 131 pigs, the prime feasting animals, from four Late Neolithic (2800-2400 BC) complexes.

The four sites -- Durrington Walls, Marden, Mount Pleasant and West Kennet Palisade Enclosures -- hosted the very first pan-British events, feasts that drew people and animals from across Britain, researchers said.

The results, published in the journal Science Advances, show pig bones excavated from these sites were from animals raised as far away as Scotland, North East England and West Wales, as well as numerous other locations across the British Isles.

The researchers believe it may have been important for those attending to contribute animals raised locally at their homes.

The origins of people that took part in rituals at these megalithic monuments and the extent of the population's movements at the time have been long-standing enigmas in British prehistory.

"This study demonstrates a scale of movement and level of social complexity not previously appreciated," said Richard Madgwick, from Cardiff University.

"These gatherings could be seen as the first united cultural events of our island, with people from all corners of Britain descending on the areas around Stonehenge to feast on food that had been specially reared and transported from their homes," Madgwick said in a statement.

Representing great feats of engineering and labour mobilisation, the Neolithic henge complexes of southern Britain were the focal point for great gatherings in the third millennium BC.

Pigs were the prime animal used in feasting and they provide the best indication of where the people who feasted at these sites came from as almost no human remains have been recovered.

Using isotope analysis, which identifies chemical signals from the food and water that animals have consumed, the researchers were able to determine geographical areas where the pigs were raised.

The study offers the most detailed picture yet of the degree of mobility across Britain at the time of Stonehenge, researchers said.

"Arguably the most startling finding is the efforts that participants invested in contributing pigs that they themselves had raised.

Procuring them in the vicinity of the feasting sites would have been relatively easy," Madgwick said.

"Pigs are not nearly as well-suited to movement over distance as cattle and transporting them, either slaughtered or on the hoof, over hundreds or even tens of kilometres, would have required a monumental effort," he said.

"This suggests that prescribed contributions were required and that rules dictated that offered pigs must be raised by the feasting participants, accompanying them on their journey, rather than being acquired locally," he said.

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