Petrified human faeces from the walls of Durrington, England

Lisa-Marie Shilito

The people who built Stonehenge probably ate animal organs and shared leftovers with dogs, according to an analysis of parasites caught in ancient feces.

Fossils of about 4,500 years ago were discovered a few years ago in Durington Walls, a Neolithic settlement in England that is believed to have housed the people who built Stonehenge. Previous research shows that there were several thousand residents in the village who traveled to the site seasonally to erect the stone pillars.

Pierce Mitchell at the University of Cambridge and his team analyzed 19 fecal fossils, finding that some were from humans and others from dogs. When they examined the feces under a microscope, they saw eggs of a parasite called a capillary worm, which they could recognize by its lemon-like shape. This led them to conclude that the sample came from someone who had eaten raw organs from infected cattle.

“We know they must have eaten internal organs like the liver where this parasite usually lives, and they also fed it to their dogs because the dogs had the same type of parasite,” Mitchell said.

The villagers probably ate raw, parasitic organs when the cow was not well cooked. “We can see these beautiful eggs of parasites from thousands of years ago that have not been damaged by the cooking process,” says Mitchell.

A sample of dog feces contained freshwater fish tapeworm eggs, which Mitchell says is a particularly intriguing find, as fish was not a common food in the village. He suspects that the raw fish was transported from a remote village to a feast in Stonehenge and then eaten by the dog.

“[The results] they show a really interesting way people lived with their companions thousands of years ago – they still treated their dogs like one of the family even then, ”says Mitchell. “It gave us this wonderful window of evidence we didn’t have before.”

Reference journal: Parasitology, DOI: 10.1017 / S0031182022000476

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