Historians Say People Came From All Over Britain to Party at Stonehenge
This weekend, you can too!
On Saturday and Sunday, the Stonehenge Visitor Centre in Wiltshire, England is hosting an event to let people experience what it’s like to erect the massive stones that make up the neolithic marvel. Doing so represents a return to the past: The event takes its inspiration from historical and archaeological studies, which have shown through chemical analysis that Stonehenge’s original creators threw huge parties to commemorate the people who built it.
Based on chemical analysis of animal bones and clay dishes at dig sites, researchers found in 2015 that the consumption of pigs and cows at Durrington Walls, a settlement just about 1.5 miles from Stonehenge, coincided with the time that the monument was under construction. This suggests that the settlement housed lots of people who had gathered to work on the structure.
In analysis of these artifacts, archaeologists and historians have concluded that togetherness and community were likely major factors that brought people together to construct the monumentally huge stone structures.
Stonehenge’s origins are mysterious as heck, due in no small part to the fact that its builders vanished shortly after building it. As such, it’s been the subject of ongoing archaeological research for decades. One of the biggest findings in recent years showed that pilgrims and partiers brought livestock from miles and miles around to feast at Durrington Walls.
Stonehenge’s construction party wasn’t just any party, though. Archaeologists and historians say people traveled up to hundreds of miles to participate in the festivities. By analyzing the radiogenic strontium isotope in the bones and clay shards collected at Durrington Walls, which give clues to the geological makeup of different regions, researchers found that the meat consumed at the site came from all over Britain. This evidence indicates that people herded their livestock all the way from as far north as Scotland down to Stonehenge. Modern historians say this epic migration indicates that the community that built Stonehenge was powerful and wide-reaching.
“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,” English Heritage senior historian, Susan Greaney, senior historian at English Heritage, the charity group that manages hundreds of British cultural sites, tells The Guardian.
“Being able to welcome and reward these people who had traveled far, perhaps as a kind of pilgrimage, with ceremonial feasts, could be a further expression of the power and position of the community.”
To recapture the communal spirit of these neolithic feasts, the Stonehenge Visitor Centre will host its event this weekend, where all are welcome to take part in the communal raising of a huge limestone block, using just rollers and ropes. Greany and company hope that people will see that construction isn’t just about the end goal, but also about the community that’s built in the process.
Correction 3/16/18: A previous version of this article stated that Stonehenge is in South Wales, when in fact, it is in England. The article has been updated to reflect this fact.