PREHISTORIC tribes living near West Kennet and Marden could have been the hosts of some of the first gatherings in British society, according to new research which has studied pig bones dug up at both places.

Isotopic studies of pig bones have revealed that the animals were not native to Wiltshire, leading to a theory which says they were brought to the county by visiting tribes, then slaughtered and eaten in huge feasts which were part of giant social gatherings.

Analysis of pig bones found alongside one of the avenues which runs from West Kennet Long Barrow to Avebury's historic stone circle shows 100 per cent of the bones tested were non-local, while 87 per cent of those tested from digs at Marden Henge came from other areas of the country.

"This is the first real evidence that we have of people coming from all over Britain to Wiltshire," said David Keys, archaeological correspondent for the Independent newspaper, who has been documenting the research as part of theories into the development of civilisation.

"The isotopic tests show where the pigs grew up. At Marden only 13 per cent of the bones that were examined were local and the rest had been brought in from substantial distances away, even hundreds of miles away. At West Kennet it was 100 per cent."

Some of the pigs had been born in Scotland, and North East England, and on the coast, and Mr Keys feels sure they would not have been herded for so far, but were probably carried in carts or even on litters to be used for feasting.

"The isotopes prove that some of the pigs were born by the sea because more salt shows up in their teeth and bones," he added.

Pig feasts were a common feature of early societies in other cultures, he added, including New Guinea where they are still held today.