Massive megaliths at Stonehenge may have been moved using…pig fat?

The massive megaliths that compose Stonehenge weigh tons, and looking at them now we inevitably wonder: How did they manage to move those giant rocks?

For decades, it was believed that the huge stones we see today at Stonehenge were likely moved by placing them on a sort of sled and rolling them over logs to their destination.

But a new theory has emerged, and it involves the use of tallow, also know as animal fat. As LiveScience notes:

“After re-analyzing ceramic pots that earlier researchers believed were used to cook food, archaeologist Lisa-Marie Shillito concluded that many of those pots may have been used to collect fat that dripped off pigs as they were spit-roasted. The grease would have been stored as lard or tallow and used to lubricate the sleds most archaeologists believe were used to move the stones.”


Stonehenge sun
(Via Wikimedia Commons)

Professor Shillito explained:

“Until now, there has been a general assumption that the traces of animal fat absorbed by these pieces of pottery were related to the cooking and consumption of food, and this steered initial interpretations in that direction. But there may have been other things going on as well, and these residues could be tantalizing evidence of the greased sled theory.”

As for those pottery fragments Shillito referred to:  They came from Durrington Walls, a site near Stonehenge where workers lived while building the monument. Ever since excavation of the site began in the 1960s, archaeologists have found all sorts of interesting things, including the pottery and some animal remains. Were the Druids cooking dinner and then using the tallow from their meals as a way to make their labor easier as they moved the massive stones from one place the the next before arranging them at their final resting site?


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Druids and pagans celebrating the Winter Solstice at Stonehenge in 2016 (Via Flickr)

Scientists are now taking a closer look (down to the atomic level) at what they’ve found near Stonehenge and what it can tell them about how construction was accomplished:

“‘By looking at traces of compounds left behind, including isotopes, or different versions of chemical elements, we can determine what types of foods were processed in ancient pots,’ Julie Dunne, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Bristol in the UK, told Live Science.”

A 2018 analysis suggested that about a third of the pots archaeologists have found were used to cook pork. And they weren’t just frying a bit of bacon, either.

“‘We find very high amounts of lipids in the pots,’ said Dunne, who was not involved in the current study. ‘The pots themselves are quite big, and they have high lipid signals, which means they were probably used to process a lot of animal products.'”

That makes sense when you consider that it would probably take large quantities of fat to move such enormous stones across land over considerable distance.

The greased sled theory, it should be noted, was given a trial run, and it worked exactly as was predicted:

“In 2018, Barney Harris, a doctoral student of archaeology at University College London, led a simulation of the greased sled theory. He and his volunteers showed that 10 people can move a 1-ton (0.9 metric tons) stone at nearly 1 mph (1.6 km/h). Shillito’s findings ‘correspond with unpublished observations made during my stone-moving experiment in London, Harris told Live Science in an email.”

As it turns out, other civilizations may have used the very same method to transport large objects. Included in that list are the pyramids of Egypt and the stone edifices on Easter Island.

So while it’s certainly safe to say that human beings have done amazing things over the centuries, it looks like they were given a helping hand (or in this case a helping hoof) by our porcine friends.


Here’s more on the pig fat theory of how the stones were moved at Stonehenge:


Featured Image Via Pixabay

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