There are a lot of mysteries surrounding Stonehenge, the iconic standing stones and burial mounds in Southern England.
Those questions usually revolve around who exactly built the monument, how Stone Age humans built it, and why modern humans would have pagan solstice parties there. But luckily for us, there are also scientists looking into the question of what these industrious, enigmatic people ate.
By looking at fat residue found in ancient pottery, a team of archaeologists recently found that the inhabitants of the site held dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese in especially high regard.
The settlement seems to have been divided into residential and ceremonial spaces during the later part of the Stone Age. Based on archeological data, the area now known as Durrington Walls would have been made up of residential wooden huts, while the actual Stonehenge site, also referred to as "the realm of the dead," was purely for religious, or ceremonial, purposes.
And it now seems that culinary rituals were divided along the very same line. The recent study titled "Feeding Stonehenge: Cuisine and consumption at the Late Neolithic site of Durrington Walls" suggests that the mysterious residents of Stonehenge took food very seriously.
While pork and beef cookouts were a staple among the tireless builders, dairy products appear to have been reserved for the gods. "The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone," Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Professor at University College London and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project, told The Telegraph.
This data falls in line with archaeological findings from other parts of the world which have also demonstrated that dairy occupied an important place in ancient societies, most likely because of its "symbolic of purity because of the clean white colour of fresh milk."
In addition to proving that dairy was considered the food of the gods, this study, published in Cambridge's Antiquity journal, illustrates just how highly organized cuisine and rituals were back then—hardly surprising considering that these are the same people who built a monument that was 1,640 feet in diameter—almost 5,000 years ago.
While the exact purpose of the millennia-old structure remains unknown, one thing is for sure; the neolithic residents of Durrington Walls liked to have a good time. "Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls," Professor Pearson added. "The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain's scattered farming communities in prehistory."
So while many mysteries about Stonehenge remain, the more we learn about the eating habits of its barbecue-eating, cheese-worshipping inhabitants, the more it becomes clear that they had awesome taste in food.
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