A new archaeological evidence suggests that prehistoric Britons imported wheat about 8,000 years ago. That’s quite surprising because the Stone Age British hunter-gatherers were long viewed as isolated from European culture. Scientists have found traces of wheat DNA from an archaeological site off the Isle of Wight, suggesting that the grain was exchanged or traded 2,000 years before it was cultivated by the first British farmers.
Britons started growing wheat 2,000 years later
Findings of the study were published in the latest issue of the journal Science. Agriculture first arrived on the British mainland about 6,000 years ago when hunter-gatherers started growing crops like wheat and barley. Researchers who analyzed the DNA fragments said they were able to match wheat strains. But there was no trace of wheat pollen, suggesting that it was not cultivated locally.
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The deposits came from sediment cores from Bouldnor Cliff, that are now 38 feet below sea level. Lead author of the study, Dr Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, believes that traders might have arrived in Britain with the wheat, where they encountered less advanced hunter-gatherers. The wheat might have been made into flour to supplement the diet, but its cultivation in Britain began only 6,000 years ago.
Britain was part of mainland Europe
Dr Allaby said the Britons were leading a hunter-gatherer life 8,000 years ago. Around the same time, agriculture was gradually spreading across Europe. For wheat to reach the site of Bouldnor Cliff, there needs to have been a contact between Mesolithic Britons and Neolithic farmers in southern Europe. Allaby said it was an exciting discovery because it reveals that Bouldnor’s inhabitants were not as isolated as previously believed.
When the wheat grains were deposited, Britain was part of mainland Europe and the English Channel was not yet formed. Britain used to be connected to Europe by land during the Ice Age. But melting ice began pushing seas higher about 10,000 years ago. A land route is believed to have lingered 8,000 years ago.