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5,000-Year-Old Poo Fossil Found At Stonehenge

by : James Hilsum on :
5,000-Year-Old Poo Fossil Found At Stonehenge
5,000-Year-Old Poo Fossil Found At Stonehenge (University of Cambridge/Alamy)

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have done the somewhat gruesome job of analysing what ancient Britons ate after shovelling through fossilised poo found near Stonehenge.

Archaeologists recently had the unenviable task of going through 19 pieces of faeces that were discovered at Durrington Walls in Wiltshire. It is believed they had been preserved for over 4,500 years.

And what did they find, might you ask? Well, it was revealed that prehistoric Brits liked to feast on the internal organs of cattle, which included the heart, kidney, liver and tongue. Sounds like offal, if you ask me!

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However, there were unsurprising repercussions from the feast, with the food containing the eggs of tapeworms. These were allowed to survive due to the meat being undercooked.

Traces of Alsatians, more commonly known as German Shepherds, were also found close to the prehistoric site and it was suggested the dogs were being fed the leftovers, resulting in them becoming infected. Clearly there is a cost to being man’s best friend!

Fossilized poo has been found near Stonehenge. Credit: University of Cambridge.
Fossilized poo has been found near Stonehenge. Credit: University of Cambridge.

“This is the first time intestinal parasites have been recovered from Neolithic Britain, and to find them in the environment of Stonehenge is really something,” said lead author Dr. Piers Mitchell in quotes published by studyfinds.org.

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“The type of parasites we find are compatible with previous evidence for winter feasting on animals during the building of Stonehenge.”

It is believed that the Stone Age settlement would have housed people that constructed Stonehenge, seeing as it is less than two miles from the site and dates back to 2,500 BC – roughly the time that archaeologists believe the site was built.

I’m sure you’re eager to know where the parasites came from. In four of the faeces analysed, it was revealed that they came from a species known as capillariids. The person would have eaten the raw offal from animal already infected with the parasite.

Aside from the parasitic poo, 38,000 animal bones were discovered – 90 percent of which came from pigs, while less than 10 percent came from cows.

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And it is from the cows where the partially mineralised faeces were found.

“As capillariid worms can infect cattle and other ruminants, it seems that cows may have been the most likely source of the parasite eggs,” Dr. Mitchell added.

Humans and dogs became infected with tapeworms thanks to the poorly cooked offal. Credit: University of Cambridge
Humans and dogs became infected with tapeworms thanks to the poorly cooked offal. Credit: University of Cambridge

Cow teeth were also found at Durrington Walls, and it has been determined that humans would have herded cattle for more than 60 miles from places as far flung from Devon on Wales.

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Patterns of butchers revealed that the beef was mainly chopped for stewing, with the bone marrow being extracted.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University College London, who excavated Durrington Walls between 2005 and 2007, revealed what food may have been on the menu in ancient times.

“Pork and beef were spit-roasted or boiled in clay pots but it looks as if the offal wasn’t always so well cooked. The population weren’t eating freshwater fish at Durrington Walls, so they must have picked up the tapeworms at their home settlements.”

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