The paleo diet, a low-carb, meat-based regimen based on the idea that our ancestors ate a much more selective variety of foods than we do, may need some rethinking in light of archaeological findings presented in a new exhibit at Stonehenge, the ancient monument in Britain. Scientists discovered bones of ancient humans at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls — and found that their diet was heavy on butter and cheese.
Britain’s ancient inhabitants evidently paired these foods, dense with saturated fat, with even more animal fat —from thick slabs of roasted pork.
Though our ancestors’ diets were far from what we’d consider healthy, they were quite a crafty bunch. The pigs they roasted had evidently been fattened up, evidenced by the decay of the pigs’ teeth from overconsumption of sugar. Evidence of their diet was left behind on pots and pans, all of which were additionally coated in fats, waxes, and oils used to cook their decadent, rich meals.
“Smaller pots, which were found at different parts of the Durrington Walls site, contained dairy products,” Stonehenge researcher Oliver Craig confirmed to The Guardian.
Those who follow the paleo diet have been skimping on the dairy ever since they started, under the premise that our ancestors wouldn’t eat it. But apparently, these ancient humans did.
In fact, researchers suspect these creamy foods were so precious to them that they may have associated them with purity or fertility, only consuming them in special distinct locations. “The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone,” according to Professor Mike Parker Pearson, lead excavator at Durrington Walls. “The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity.” Stonehenge was a site of celebration — and these creamy, fatty meals were absolutely a way to celebrate.
At first, this discovery baffled scientists. It had been previously uncovered through genetic evidence that Britain’s prehistoric inhabitants were lactose intolerant, leading many to assume they abstained from dairy completely. (A bloated and gassy party doesn’t sound like much of a party at all.) But the residents of Durrington Walls outsmarted their dull, dairy-free fate. Instead of drinking boring old milk, they made cheese and yogurt and indulged in thicker, more indulgent forms of dairy.
“I think people in those days would also have been eating vegetables and fruit,” explained an exhibition curator, Susan Greaney, “but not here. Pork and beef and cheese — that was special festive fare — and that is what was consumed at Stonehenge.”
No wonder we love comfort food so much — our love for all things butter and cheese has been passed down for thousands of years.