Durrington Walls, a large Neolithic Briton settlement, reveals a diet rich in pork, beef, and dairy.

Durrington Walls, a large Neolithic Briton settlement, reveals a diet rich in pork, beef, and dairy. Photo: Mandy | FlickrCC.

Archeologists have been puzzling over Stonehenge for as long as there have been archeologists, but the site has been pretty close with its secrets. Nearby Durrington Walls, however, is much more generous with the secrets of prehistory. Durrington Walls is a large Neolithic settlement, occupied about 2,500 BCE, and thought to be connected to the culture that built Stonehenge.

By studying Durrington Walls, we’ve learned a lot about the people who lived there, and thanks to new chemical analysis of pottery found there, we’ve also learned a lot about the diets of these people. By analyzing pottery shards, archeologists from the University of York have been able to determine what these Neolithic people were cooking and eating with that pottery, and signs point overwhelmingly to animal products.

They found that, in homes throughout the site, people were cooking meat at home, primarily pigs but also cattle. Pots, which were found in ceremonial spaces, were primarily used for dairy, which indicates that milk and cheese could have had ritual significance, or could have been considered a delicacy reserved for a priest class.

The site also contains a lot of animal bones, which can tell us some other interesting things about this society. Not only was meat a big part of their diets, but they were also bringing live animals to Durrington Walls, instead of killing and butchering animals elsewhere and simply brining joints of meat into the settlement.

We know this because we’ve found all kinds of bones, and not just those associated with cuts of meat. Many of those animals were also killed before they reached maturity, implying that they were killed at certain points for ritual feasts, instead of waiting till they were larger and could provide more meat.

Culinary prehistory is hard to study, but when we can discover things about what ancient people ate, and how they prepared it, we can learn quite a bit about their culture as well.