Teeth found at Stonehenge suggest the landmark was built as part of a lavish 4,000-year-old party or ritual
Stonehenge’s iconic circle of four-tonne bluestones may have been taken to their final resting place as part of an ancient pilgrimage or “party”.
After studying the formation of the stones, as well as their composition and Neolithic rituals, Susan Greaney, English Heritage‘s senior historian, said experts now believe the builders did not want to make “things as easy and quick as possible”. Instead, they took their time as part of a social gathering or pilgrimage to the site, indulging in celebrations throughout the journey.
Stonehenge was constructed in Wiltshire more than 4,000 years ago using bluestones from the Preseli Hills in South Wales, some 155 miles (250km) away. This has long baffled experts.
Following the discovery of evidence that feasts would have taken place at the nearby Durrington Walls settlement – two miles (3.2km) south-east from Stonehenge – and that people would have journeyed from across the country to help build it, researchers at English Heritage re-examined the theories around its construction.
In particular, by studying the remains of 38,000 pig and cattle bones and teeth found at Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, experts could determine where the individual animals had come from. This analysis showed that many had travelled hundreds of miles across the UK, along its ancient byways, and even by boat to the south coast on their way to the settlement site.
They also studied images from other stone-pulling ceremonies, including one from 1915 on Nias in Indonesia, which revealed the builders clothed in ceremonial dress “revelling” in the task of moving monoliths by hand, taking part in feasts and dancing.
The findings suggest that the act of building Stonehenge may have been as important as the reasons why the stone circle was built.
The announcement comes as English Heritage prepares to celebrate 100 years since Stonehenge was donated to the UK government by its last private owner, Sir Cecil Chubb, in October 2018, three years after he bought it at auction.
The upcoming events include inviting the public – for the first time at the site – to help move and raise a four-tonne stone in a bid to understand more about the process, and promote the site’s history. Visitors will use rollers and ropes to build a replica monument, and experts will study how group co-operation would have been used.
“In contemporary Western culture, we are always striving to make things as easy and quick as possible, but we believe that for the builders of Stonehenge this may not have been the case,” said Greaney.
“Drawing a large number of people from far and wide to take part in the process of building was potentially a powerful tool in demonstrating the strength of the community to outsiders.
“Being able to welcome and reward these people who had travelled far, perhaps as a kind of pilgrimage, with ceremonial feasts, could be a further expression of the power and position of the community.”