This is how the builders of Stonehenge lived: they feasted on viscera during the winter solstice

Cambridge University Studies


British archaeologists find parasites in fossilized feces that reveal the consumption of animal parts at Durrington Walls, a Neolithic settlement just 1.7 miles from Stonehenge, where its builders stayed for the winter.

Mega Complex
The megalithic complex of Stonehenge is in the English county of Wiltshire.Adam Stanford
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Stonehenge is the most famous and mysterious prehistoric monument in the world. There are theories about how and why this fascinating circle was built with large blocks of stone in the English county of Wiltshire, but there is little certainty as to who built it or what kinds of ceremonies were celebrated there. .

Fortunately for scientists, just 1.7 miles from the megalithic complex, a Neolithic settlement called Durrington Walls is offering clues as to who the builders of Stonehenge were and the lifestyle they led five millennia ago. In that city during the second phase of the construction of Stonehenge.

To reconstruct that phase, a British team combined archaeological excavation with laboratory techniques: “We have the only archaeological evidence in prehistory, because writing was not yet invented at that time,” said Pierce D. Mitchell, an archaeologist. Told this newspaper. University of Cambridge and lead author of this research.

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Thus, their analysis of fossil excreta found at Durrington Walls indirectly revealed what the celebrations were like, as detailed by the authors in the special journal Today. parasitology, Scientists have found parasites similar to those in these prehistoric droppings that still cause intestinal problems in many people today when they eat raw or undercooked animal foods.

For 4,500 years, eggs of parasitic worms have been hidden in fossilized feces, which archaeologists call coprolites (since the Greek for copros means ‘excrement’ and lithos, ‘stone’). Now they have come to light by passing the parasitic excreta through the laboratory.

“Since the internal organs of animals decompose in the soil, we have much less information about the meat eaten by people than about what we can detect from the knife marks on the bones that show how back However, studies of the presence parasites show that both people and dogs living in Durrington Walls also swallowed the internal organs of the animals they ate,” Mitchell argued via an email.

Human excreta collected at Durrington Walls settlement.
Human excreta collected at Durrington Walls settlement.Lisa-Marie Shilito

worm eggs Capillaridae In human feces, recognizable by their lemon-like shape, it indicates that the person had already eaten raw or undercooked lungs or liver of an infected animal. According to Mitchell, although insects Capillaridae can infect cattle and other ruminants, It seems that cows were the main source that transmitted those parasitic eggs.,

During excavations of the area believed to be the main center in the Durrington Walls, archaeologists found pottery and stone tools along with the bones of more than 38,000 animals – 90% were from pigs and 10% were from cows. Mineralized feces used in the study were also found there.

Specifically, his team analyzed 19 coprolites. In five (one from people and four from dogs) they found eggs of parasitic worms, so their theory is that they ate the internal organs of animals such as cows during the celebration of the festival, and saved the dogs around them.

They also found parasite eggs in the dog’s excrement from eating raw fish, but there is no evidence at the site to suggest that humans had eaten fish there, so it is believed that the dog was already infected upon arrival. . Those analyzes were carried out at the University of Bristol’s National Environmental Isotope Facility and also revealed that the cows came from the southern regions of the UK.

a pair of eggs
Egg of fish-derived parasite found in dog fecesEvelina Anastasiou

As Mitchell points out, the Durrington Walls settlement dates back to 2500 BC, a period that coincides with the period in which two massive upright stones supporting the famous Trilithon, a third straight rock, are believed to have been erected. . Scientists believe that some of the builders of Stonehenge – a place that should have been reserved for worship – stayed at Durrington Walls. “Evidence suggests it was inhabited for more than 55 years, perhaps only a decade.”

Its residents came and went: “It seems that Durrington Walls was inhabited only during the winter, and we believe that in the summer it was empty. This suggests that farmers and cultivators lived in their homes in other parts of the south of England during the summer months, worked in the fields, and during the winter, when there was no harvest in the UK, they worked on the farm. Used to travel to Stonehenge. Monument building”, is the theory of the archaeologist.

A hypothesis supported by previous isotopic analysis of cow teeth from Durrington Walls suggests that some cattle were brought from Devon or Wales about 100 km away for mass feasting. Patterns identified in cattle bones from the site suggest that their meat was primarily harvested for cooking and that the bone marrow was removed.

Mitchell says the parasites found in the feces are consistent with all previous evidence pointing to a winter feast during the construction of Stonehenge.

This is the oldest evidence of intestinal parasites in human excreta that has been identified in the United Kingdom, although, as British archaeologists refer, older ones have been found in other parts of Europe. “The oldest evidence of intestinal parasites in humans was found in a cave in France, with layered nematode eggs dating back 30,000 years.”

Microscopic view of eggs from a pair
Microscopic view of parasite eggs found in fecesEvelina Anastasiou

As for the parasites infecting the builders of Stonehenge, Mitchell says, their eggs have also been found in Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in continental Europe, and those insects continue to infect animals today.

“It is possible that these feasts took place every winter, and were not done only once,” says the archaeologist. “We believe that these celebrations took place in the winter because pigs are born in the spring, around March, and the pig bones found at the site were about nine months old. This suggests that they were slaughtered.” Between December and January, coincides with the winter solstice, when the Sun aligns with Stonehenge”.

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