The Stonehenge Builders Ate Meat

There’s a lot to like about the paleo movement. Lauren Cordain’s work has been been tremendously informative, and Robb Wolf’s book delivers some fierce insights on healthy (and unhealthy) eating.

And so it comes as no surprise that I keep my eyes open to new research and data from this domain. Today’s news comes from Durrington Walls, a late neolithic site of peoples though to be the builders of Stonehenge. Of interest (to me, and presumably the archeologists) is the following:

[At the site] …there was very little evidence of plant food preparation at any part of the site. The main evidence points to mass animal consumption, particularly of pigs. (source)

The article goes on to articulate what types of meat were predominant, how it was cooked, and the interesting role dairy foods appeared to play in the culture. It’s a fascinating read, and it only takes a minute.

Why is this interesting?

There is a theory out there than human genes evolved over time in response to a diet high in animal products and low in grains, fruits and veggies. It continues to hold that this way of eating is what modern peoples are ideally suited to. In other words, were evolutionarily designed to eat low carb/ketogenic diets. (And likely intermittent fasting.)

But, this is far from settled science. And even the communities that typically champion this low carb/paleo way of eating sometimes struggle with the notion that we’re not designed to eat carbs (at leas in the quantities we currently do). It’s not unusual to see them dial back the rhetoric and discuss ways in which carbs were actually a mainstay of such people. Sometimes they are special carbs, other times quite magical…

And so the science is unsettled. The rhetoric even moreso…but over time a preponderance of evidence will make clear what is otherwise muddled. Let’s pay attention, shall we?

9 Responses to “The Stonehenge Builders Ate Meat”

  1. This is all pretty irrelevant to me. All I care about is what works best for my body now. Whatever our ancestors had to do back then to stay alive, I’m glad they did it, but my primary concern is what works best in my body now given the vast array of foods and nutrition sources we have to chose from today.

    • Alan, I think you raise an important point that we’d all do well to remember:

      All I care about is what works best for my body now.
      Whatever our ancestors had to do back then to stay alive, I’m glad they did it, but my primary concern is what works best in my body now…

      Regardless of the guidance, the history, the dogma… if you’ve found a way of eating that is optimal for your health and wellness, follow it.

    • John Anthony

      How will you know what works for you? I guess it might be obvious if all is well, but not so if you run into negatives and then need to decide if it is temporary or permanent. Will you just keep experimenting or try to rely on science to guide you?

  2. Frank P. Araujo, Ph.D.

    As an anthropologist, I must comment that our ancestors could eat anything digestible and did. Before the invention of horticulture and cultivation, the primary source of carbs were the soft marrow of plants, root and fruits. Unless our present genetically modified products, these consumables were rich in fiber, both soluble and insoluble and relatively low in sugars. Crab apples and wild strawberries are good examples of the typical vegetable foods our ancestors thrived on. Once again, we come back to the rich source of nutrition available in animal protein which was the important pivot point in the nutritional aspects of our evolution.

    However, many of our fellow humans have adapted to the higher carbs available to us since the origins of agriculture, a few scant 12,000 years ago. Alas, I and my fellow fatties have not and develop all those bad things that consuming sugars bring. Hence, some of us have bodies that just can’t handle sugars and need to try the kind of eating that will suit our particular bodies.

    Once more we’re confronted by that time-worn cliché, “One size doesn’t fill all.” The ketogenic lifestyle seems to work well for me.

    • Really insightful contribution, Frank. Thanks for sharing!

      …some of us have bodies that just can’t handle sugars and need to try the kind of eating that will suit our particular bodies.

      I think the “one size doesn’t fit all” notion is ignored by a great many dietary dogmatists. And it causes no small amount of grief for all sorts of people. Especially when the alternative is, “We don’t know what is ideal for you.” The more desperate you are for an understanding of what optimal nutrition is for you, the more painful will be the lack of insight.

      • Catherine

        This statement surely opens the door for discussion of the blood type diet. Seeing as blood type O is considered the oldest, it’s not too much of a stretch to explore the correlation further – that some of us do not do well on a modern diet, one rich on grains and sugars.

        Just wander what (both) of your thoughts are on this?

  3. How do we know what is good for our bodies now? This is a difficult question to answer. Any clue is helpful. One clue is the kind of diet our ancestors’ bodies adapted to over thousands of generations. It’s not foolproof because we have only partial information, and because it is just one of many different kinds of clues. However, Weston Price’s research reported in his magnum opus “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” strongly supports the idea that ancient groups of people all over the earth ate low carb, high fat, organ meat, insects, fiber rich, microbe rich food, and that when modern people depart from their traditional diets, their health suffers with tooth decay and other degenerative conditions. Another great book that looks at optimal nutrition from a variety of angles is “The Perfect Health Diet” by Paul Jaminet and his wife.

  4. Alice and Fred

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you very much for reporting this important study.

    A common rejoinder in the above comments is “That’s fine for our ancestors, but what is good for my body now?” followed by the astute observation that “one size does not fit all.” The latter truism defines the essence of biochemical individuality.(1)

    “We are all different” is a common claim found in popular writings on nutrition and dieting. But what does that mean? For many authors it means eating whatever makes you happy. For others with a less self-indulgent premise it means studying and learning what foods make you feel physically good and what foods do not. The latter approach is a reflection of one’s own biochemical individuality.

    Biochemical individuality is a reality(2). It is not some meaningless blather that removes from us our responsibility for our own health and gives us license to pig-out at will. Biochemical individuality, in simplest terms, is the result of modification of the human genome that evolved together with the evolution of prehistoric humans.

    Genetic science has shown that minor genetic changes are slowly but constantly occurring within the genome of individuals. These tiny mutations are not sufficiently powerful to change an individual’s identity as human, but they do account for variations among individuals. This is the reason why some people can enjoy peanut butter sandwiches with impunity or follow ketogenic diets with gusto.

    Biochemical individuality is of extreme importance to the individual, but what is the value of studying what our ancestors ate? Remember, the human species was literally created from foods that were available to him; the food that primitive humans ate was what made them human. The genetic blueprint for optimal human nutrition was laid down together with construction of the human genome and the human species in prehistoric times.

    It is generally accepted that the genetic blueprint that dictates the nutritional requirements of modern-day humans is the same as the genetic blueprint of primitive humans, which, in turn, makes our nutritional requirements the same as those of our ancestors.

    The importance of the findings of the Stonehenge Builders is that it adds to the fund of knowledge of what foods helped create the human species. This information permits us to refine our understanding of the genetic blueprint decreed by the prehistoric human genome. Nutritional biochemistry plus extensive clinical application tell us that the prehistoric blueprint for optimal human nutrition, at a minimum, includes carbohydrate restriction, balance of the lipid mediator endpoints of essential fatty acid metabolism, and inclusion of appropriate micronutrients (2).

    Note that these requirements are broadly stated, are of a qualitative nature, and do not specify quantities. Here is where biochemical individuality enters the picture. Every human has an optimal quantity of intake for each nutritional requirement. What are those optimal quantities? They are highly individual and unknown for most people. This is probably why there is so much nonsense in nutritional science literature.

    Some individuals, intuitively or by trial and error, learn what is optimal for them and what is not. But for many people, there is little help. Biochemical individuality is an area of nutritional science that has been, for decades, desperately crying for research, but is totally ignored by the sponsors of research financing. Why?

    1.) Williams, Rogers. Biochemical Individuality. Accessed October 17, 2015.

    2.) Ottoboni, Alice and Fred. A Tale of Two Truths. Accessed October 17, 2015.

  5. Rene Erhardt, naturopath and nutritionist

    More info is always welcome and the diet of the Stonehenge builders should be duly noted as another piece in the puzzle. Whatever they ate, we can be sure that it was natural food, as in: unadulterated meat and plants with the full complement of microbes naturally inhabiting this type of real estate.

    An often overlooked aspect in our discussions about diet is that none of this exists any more. 70 % of the foodstuffs on supermarket shelves in the US contain GM ingredients. Even the “purest” keto-bars, -shakes and the like contain a 0 % complement of microbes which used to present in every food item before industrial production began.

    Adding to that the insights gained through epigenetics, at work back then just as much as nowadays, highlights the necessity of looking at the bigger picture: natural foods as the provider of nourishment for our human bodies which have evolved in a natural environment and being part of it.

    At the same time it brings us right down to our primary concern as expressed by Alan and more than just hints the difficulties we are facing now in identifying “what works best for my body”. Independent from the fact that personally, I am doing very well on a keto diet, the work of Weston Price is still the most important summary of natural diets of modern non-industrialised people and its effects on health (Nutrition and Physical Degeneration) and the most useful guide for my next dinner. The Stonehenge builders definitely never ate a factory-pharmed pork chop fed on GM soy slurry.


Leave a Reply