Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Navan Fort, an important archeological site and the historic capital of Ulster, named for the Irish kingdom of Ulaid, regularly hosted feasts featuring roasted pork and drawing people from across Ireland, according to a new study of ancient pig carcasses.
Previous excavations have turned up evidence -- including a barbary ape cranium from Iberia -- that Navan Fort was a site of ritual importance to the people of Iron Age Ireland. Now, researchers have discovered evidence that the ritual site drew visitors and livestock for feasting from across northern Great Britain.
Archaeologists excavated and studied 36 pig remains, using sophisticated isotopic analysis to pinpoint the origins of each animal.
"Our results provide clear evidence that communities in Iron Age Ireland were very mobile and that livestock were also moved over greater distances than was previously thought," lead researcher Richard Madgwick, an osteoarchaeologist at Cardiff University in Wales, said in a news release.
Just as with humans, when animals eat, their diet leaves behind chemical signatures that get preserved in the layers of enamel that form their teeth. Scientists use these chemical signatures to link animals with their geographic origins.
Pigs raised in Scotland feature different isotopic signatures than those raised in Ireland. The new study, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, revealed evidence that visitors to Navan Fort brought pigs from more than 100 miles away.
"The high proportion of pig remains found there is very rare for this period," Madgwick said. "This suggests that Navan Fort was a feasting center, as pigs are well-suited as feasting animals and in early Irish literature pork is the preferred food of the feast. It is clear that Navan Fort had a vast catchment and that the influence of the site was far-reaching."
An earlier archeological survey led by Madgwick revealed the presence of pigs of distant origins at archeological sites near Stonehenge.
"Transporting animals across the country would have involved a great deal of time and effort so our findings demonstrate the important role they played in society," Madgwick said. "Food was clearly a central part of people's exchanges and traditions."