Institute of Archaeology


Neolithic parasites from feasting near Stonehenge

16 June 2022

New research published recently in the journal Parasitology reveals parasites in prehistoric faeces from feasting near Stonehenge.

Stonehenge (Image courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd)

Durrington Walls was a Neolithic settlement that dates to around 2500 BC. It was built very close to Stonehenge, and likely to be where those who built the stone circle lived. Butchered animal bones previously found at the site show that those living at Durrington Walls held feasts where cattle and pigs were eaten.

Pieces of faeces that had been preserved over the millennia - coprolites - were excavated from the site. Nineteen of these were analysed in the collaborative study (led by the University of Cambridge), and some were found to contain the eggs of parasitic worms, suggesting the inhabitants feasted on the internal organs of cattle and fed leftovers to their dogs. 

One of the coprolites, which belonged to a dog, contained the eggs of fish tapeworm. This indicates that the dog had previously eaten raw freshwater fish and become infected by the tapeworm.

According to Mike Parker Pearson, who excavated Durrington Walls and was one of the authors of the study:

This evidence tells us something new about the people who came here for winter feasts during the construction of Stonehenge. Pork and beef were spit-roasted or boiled in clay pots but it looks as if the offal wasn’t always so well cooked. People weren’t eating freshwater fish at Durrington Walls so they must have picked up the tapeworms at their home settlements”.

The open access research paper may be cited as: Mitchell, P., Anastasiou, E., Whelton, H., Bull, I., Parker Pearson, M., & Shillito, L. (2022). Intestinal parasites in the Neolithic population who built Stonehenge (Durrington Walls, 2500 BCE). Parasitology, 1-7. doi:10.1017/S0031182022000476

Image: Stonehenge (Image courtesy of Adam Stanford © Aerial-Cam Ltd)  

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