Stonehenge (Brrrr... Neolithic food distribution point - grilled pork a speciality - at least in the dead of winter?)
However, there was a separate and earlier departure point for my ideas. That was through thinking through what it might have been like to eke out a living, nay existence, as a Neolithic homesteader on Salisbury Plain some 4500 years ago - see my last but one post). Salisbury Plain may have had several attractions to Neolithic farmers, but by no stretch of the imagination can it be considered as a prime fertile area in Britain with its thin soil overlying a chalk base. Probably the main attraction was so much in what it was, but what it was not : it was not dense woodland with at best a few clearings, with little protection from enemies, human or wild life. But whereas the woods offered a year-round larder for the hunter-gatherer (indigenous UK mammals like deer, wild boar etc do not hibernate) the safer more open Plain was a challenge for Neolithic farmers in the winter months with dwindling perishable food stores.
Here's a bare bones summary (no pun intended). I'll flesh out later ...
I I have suggested that was the purpose of SilburyHill – a place for disposal of those vital organs – which probably were seen as having the soul of the deceased, the remainder being seen as a mere husk - once the body was stripped of it vital organs and their perceived spiritual significance.
This image accompanies an article that mentions Neolithic pig husbandry (in Spain) with references to the problem of keeping pigs fed in winter, and an interesting, perhaps relevant mention of "air-cured ham".
The design of Woodhenge and Stonehenge with uprights and lintels may have been to create shelves and racks for hanging and drying in an age before salting/curing/smoking had been developed (?) Early precursors of the henges may even have been "Towers of Silence" relying on carrion feeding birds, as per Zoroastrian culture to provide what was considered an alternative to burial.
Addendum 1: We tend to think - or assume- that the transition from hunter-gather to settled agrarian existence was a smooth one. In fact it was probably anything but. As the first agrarians cleared trees to make a settlement, they made life more difficult for the hunters, and in so doing would have reduced their ability to supplement their agriculture with some hunting on the side. In other words the two life-styles came into conflict since each was encroaching on the territory of the other. So the transition was a difficult and risky one, especially in northern latitudes with winters and short days. So 'secondary necrophagy' may well have been an essential stage in the transition.One likes to think that natural mortality may have sufficed to provide enough of those unconventionally-fed pigs in winter, but there would have been no guarantees. One suspects that during lean periods, there may well have been pretexts created, no doubt backed by ad hoc justification - to generate more turnover so to speak, which we would tend to pass off, 4500 years later, as religion-inspired "sacrifice" without perhaps appreciating an underlying utilitarian, i.e. survival motive. Even in the modern world, we read of parts of the world where execution of criminals feeds a growing demand for transplant organs. Spare part surgery is a wonderful innovation, and not difficult to justify, but might the abuses of that innovation not provide a clue to the mindset that may have existed 4500 years ago ... a means can always be found to balance supply and demand...
Addendum 2: From wiki, under the 'scavenger' entry:
I In humans, necrophagy is taboo in most societies. There have been many instances in history, especially in war times, where necrophagy was a survival behavior.
In the 1950s Louis Binford suggested that early humans were obtaining meat via scavenging, not hunting. In 2010, Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman also proposed that early humans were scavengers that used stone tools to harvest meat off carcasses and to open bones. They proposed that humans specialized in long-distance running to compete with other scavengers in reaching carcasses. It has been suggested that such an adaptation ensured a food supply that made large brains possible.
The eating ating of human meat, a practice known as anthropophagy (and known more commonly as cannibalism), is extremely taboo in almost every culture.
Addendum 3 : from National Geographic( for kids!) regarding that scary Neolithic Center Parc aka Durrington Walls:
" "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.
I'm starting to regret this project. Maybe I should have stuck with the Shroud of Turin.
Update: May 27th
Have just discovered through googling that Silbury has previously been described as a tomb for the "souls" of Neolithic folk. The link is to a 2007 article in the Mail. No mention of mortal remains though. As I say, I think the internal organs of folk were consigned to Silbury over a longish period (say a century), such that the mound grew like topsy - with no preconceived plan to create so dominant a feature on the landscape.
Final word here: I try not to overload this generalist science site with any one topic. For that reason future postings will now appear on my new site called "Sussing out Stonehenge - and Silbury Hill too".