The Feasts of Stonehenge: Investigating Mobility in Late Neolithic Britain
Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)
"The Feasts of Stonehenge: Investigating Mobility in Late Neolithic Britain", Lecture by Dr Richard Madgwick.
During the 3rd millennium BC, vast henge complexes were constructed in southern Britain, with Stonehenge and Avebury being the most famous. These complexes played host to vast feasting events, as evidenced by vast ceramic and faunal assemblages, sometimes extending into tens of thousands of fragments. The role of these complexes remains the subject of considerable debate. They may have acted as nodes in an inter-regional network, power-bases in the heartland of particular groups or monuments at the border of territories, where alliances were forged and consolidated.
This research establishes the degree to which these feasting centres supported local and non-local people and explores potential origins of the participants, to contribute to our understanding of the role of the monuments. Uncremated human remains are largely absent from these sites and therefore faunal remains, which are dominated by pigs, provide a vital source of evidence for addressing this issue. However, pigs are not considered suited to movement across the landscape and therefore fauna could have been raised locally, perhaps by specialist producers and would not thus provide a good proxy for human movement.
This lecture presents multi-isotope datasets (δ13C, δ15N, δ18O, δ34S, 87Sr/86Sr) on samples of pigs from four henge enclosures. Results demonstrate that pigs were not locally raised by specialist producers and show considerable variation in husbandry regimes. In addition, a high proportion of pigs, and by inference people, from all four sites were of non-local origin. Beyond that, the combined isotope datasets indicate that participants derived from multiple, disparate locations, in some instances vast distances away from the complexes. This provides evidence that these centres did not just support local or regional groups, but sustained inter-community networks on a much larger scale. This research has directly informed a new temporary exhibition at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre entitled 'Feast!', which is open until September 2018.
Image Credit: "Durrington Settlement in c.2500 BC", Image Courtesy of English Heritage, drawing by Peter Lorimer.