The ancient builders of Stonehenge may have had a surprisingly meaty diet and mobile way of life. Although farming first reached the British Isles around 6,000 years ago, cultivation had given way to animal raising and herding by the time Stonehenge and other massive stone monuments began to dot the landscape, a new study finds.
Agricultureís British debut occurred during a mild, wet period that enabled the introduction of Mediterranean crops such as emmer wheat, barley and grapes, say archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. Farming existed at first alongside foraging for wild fruits and nuts and limited cattle raising, but the rapid onset of cool, dry conditions in Britain about 5,300 years ago spurred a move to raising cattle, sheep and pigs, Stevens and Fuller propose in the September Antiquity.
With the return of a cultivation-friendly climate about 3,500 years ago, during Britainís Bronze Age, crop growing came back strong, the scientists contend. Farming villages rapidly replaced a mobile, herding way of life.
Many researchers have posited that agriculture either took hold quickly in Britain around 6,000 years ago or steadily rose to prominence by 4,000 years ago. In either case, farmers probably would have assembled Stonehenge, where initial work began as early as 5,500 years ago, with large stones hauled in around 4,400 years ago (SN: 6/21/08, p.13).