Dietary Archaeology of Durrington Walls

At Durrington Walls, a permanent settlement in Britain dating back to 2500 B.C.E., evidence of feasts offers a new understanding of pilgrimages to nearby monuments(Mowbray 2023). The large site, illustrated in figure 1, is believed to have been the home of those building Stonehenge, which were visited by those from around the British Aisles (Mowbray 2023). The nearby circular gathering site of Marden is also tied to Durrington Walls, displaying the settlement’s significance in early Britain’s culture around pilgrimage, gathering, and celebration (Romey 2019).

Figure 1. Drawn reconstruction of the Durrington Walls site. Illustration by Peter Lorimer.

At the site, many artifacts of the feasts remain, including 8,500 animal bones, mainly those of pigs (Romey 2019). Researchers found through isotope analysis of pig teeth and jaws that those who gathered at these sites brought livestock from their own regions for the feasts (Morris 2019). While the attendees could’ve reasonably raised the pigs near the feast site, it is presumed that these travelers were required to bring their own food for the feast in order to attend (Morris 2019). It is important to understand the implications of pigs being the animal of choice, as they are considered difficult to travel with (Romey 2019). The difficulty of this journey, which was dozens to hundreds of miles long, makes it more significant that these were pan-British gatherings, not just individual community celebrations or gatherings between neighboring villages (Romey 2019). This offers insight into the organization of the event, as people from far reaching areas of the British Isles were aware of and interested in making the pilgrimage to these stone structures around Durrington Walls.

Figure 2. A Capillariid worm egg from Durrington Walls. Photograph by Evilena Anastasiou.

Further research has been done on the diets of those feasting at Durrington Walls involving coprolites, which are fossilized feces (Bonner 2022). In this study, which focused on humans and dogs, researchers found the eggs of several intestinal parasites (pictured in figure 2) which indicate that animal organs were eaten at these feasts, not just the muscular meat (Mitchell 2022). One parasite was found to be a fish worm, which indicates that a dog had eaten a fish (Bonner 2022). This is a surprising finding as not much evidence has been found of fishing during the Late Neolithic period in Britain (Mitchell 2022).

Through multiple means of analysis of the Durrington Walls site’s feast remains, researchers find more than they would through one method. Bone and tooth isotope analysis offers more information on the original locations of those attending pilgrimages, and the coprolite analysis found that people were eating organs and possibly fished, for which there is less traditional evidence (Mitchell 2022). This research of Durrington Walls and its food waste shows how various methodologies can come together to create a better understanding of how and why people made these pilgrimages.


Bonner, Laure. 2022. “Prehistoric Faeces Reveal Parasites from Feasting at Stonehenge.” University of Cambridge Department of Archaeology.

Mitchell, Piers D, Evilena Anastasiou, Helen L. Whelton, Ian D. Bull, Mike Parker Pearson and Lisa-Marie Shillito. 2022. “Intestinal Parasites in the Neolithic Population who Built Stonehenge (Durrington Walls, 2500 BCE).” Cambridge University Press.

Morris, Steven. 2019. “Ancient Britons Travelled Hundreds of Miles to Stone Circle Feasts.” The Gaurdian.

Mowbray, Sean. 2023. “What the Stonehenge Builders Liked to Eat.” Discover Magazine.

Romey, Kristin. 2019. “Stonehenge-Era Pig Roasts United Ancient Britain, Scientists Say.” National Geographic.

Further reading:

What the Terracotta Army Tells us about Ancient China’s Social Structure

Burial sites can offer insights into how ancient people lived their life, and how those around them chose to preserve them with intention. Extraordinary examples, such as Shi Huangdi’s mausoleum and its Terracotta Army, are rich in information about the societies which created them. The army was created during the Qin dynasty in ancient China (Britannica 2023) to aid emperor Shi Huangdi in the afterlife (Cartwright 2017). Its scale and level of preservation are valuable in aiding archaeologists’ understanding of ancient China.

The discovery of this mausoleum aids in confirming the classification of this period in imperial China as a state society, as complex burials of those high in a social order require great specialization, resources, and social power. The evident existence of a large standing army is also evidence of a strong centralized state (Britannica 2023). In terms of societal structure, the burial site informs us that the sculptures were created through forced labor, as the remains of convicts and laborers were found with plaques among the site (Cartwright 2017). From this it is clear that the imbalance in social standing between the emperor and laborers was vast. Shi Huangdi was buried with many valuables and precious materials (VMFA), showing that the living respected him. These discoveries also support the idea that a greater purpose toward the Emperor outweighed the monetary value of these materials to the empire, enriching the understanding of their organization as survival wasn’t a priority over respect for the ruler. 

Aspects of other people’s value within society are represented within the monument as well, primarily the soldiers. The height of soldiers’ statues is correlated to their level within the military, with generals being the tallest (Cartwright 2017). Applying consistent cultural aspects from other cultures, it could be concluded that this height differentiation indicated that higher military ranks were respected and held significance in ancient China.

Figure 1. Terracotta soldiers in rows displaying variation in appearance and gestures. Photograph by Louis Mazzatenta.

A great amount of time and resources were also used to create the Terracotta Army and the rest of the burial site. Each soldier is represented as an individual, with varied colors, headpieces, and positions, and they stand upon a quarter of a million tiles (Cartwright 2017). The aforementioned wealth which Shi Huangdi was buried with is also significant. This use of time to create all of these sculptures and the resources involved indicate that specialization was very prevalent (Cartwright 2017). They may not have needed the wealth because of steady food supply and great success financially, and laborers could focus solely on crafting as they wouldn’t have to grow their own food in a state society. With this societal organization, a standing army and class systems including the laborers and craftspeople are all present because of the scale and ability to organize at levels beyond kin relationships (Renfrew 2018, 146).

Figure 2. (A bronze chariot found along with the Terracotta Army). Photograph by Hung Chung Chih.

Through the analysis of artifacts found with the Terracotta Army and the burial site of Shi Huangdi to which it belongs, more details about ancient Chinese society can be understood.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “terra-cotta army.” Encyclopedia Britannica, September 8, 2023.

“Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China.” Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. September 26, 2023.

Cartwright, Mark. “Terracotta Army.” World History Encyclopedia. November 6, 2017.,of%20workers%20who%20built%20it.

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn. 2018. “How Were Societies Organized.” Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. Fourth edition. 143-148, 157-158. Thames & Hudson.

Further Reading: