James Owen

The people who built Stonehenge in southern England thousands of years ago had wild parties, eating barbecued pigs and smashing up pottery. This is according to recent work by archaeologists—history experts who investigate how human beings lived in the past.

Archaeologists digging near Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain last year discovered the remains of a large prehistoric village where they think the builders of the mysterious stone circle used to live.

The village was shown to be about 4,600 years old, the same age as Stonehenge and as old as the pyramids in Egypt. The village is less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from Stonehenge and lies inside a massive manmade circular earthwork, or “henge,” known as Durrington Walls. 

Remains found at the site included jewelry, stone arrowheads, tools made of deer antlers, and huge amounts of animal bones and broken pottery. These finds suggest Stone Age people went to the village at special times of the year “to feast and party,” says Mike Parker Pearson from Sheffield University in England.

He said many of the pig bones they found had been thrown away half-eaten. He also said the partygoers appeared to have shot some of the farm pigs with arrows, possibly as a kind of sport before barbecuing them.

An ancient road which led from the village to a river called the Avon was also unearthed. Here, the experts think, people came after their parties to throw dead relatives in the water so the bodies would be washed downstream to Stonehenge. 

The experts believe Stonehenge was a like a cemetery where ancient Britons buried the dead and remembered their ancestors. “The theory is that Stonehenge is a kind of spirit home to the ancestors,” Parker Pearson says. 

Next to the village there was a giant wooden version of the famous stone circle. Archaeologists say this timber circle, which was only temporary because it eventually rotted away, was a symbol of life. Stonehenge, on the other hand, was a permanent symbol of the afterlife.

Parker Pearson says the recent discoveries made around the newly found village show that Stonehenge didn’t stand alone but was part of a much bigger religious site.

People still come to worship and celebrate at Stonehenge today. They meet there when the sun sets on the shortest day of winter and when it rises on the longest day of summer. But the days of barbecuing whole pigs there and throwing family members into the river are a thing of the past.

Text by James Owen