Wheat Discovery Rewrites Europe's Stone Age History

Ancient Brits apparently weren't as isolated as once believed
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2015 3:50 PM CST
Wheat Discovery Rewrites Europe's Stone Age History
Wheat in a field in Natural Bridge, Va.   (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Scientists studying a Stone Age site in Britain came across something that by all rights shouldn't have been there: wheat. More specifically, the researchers found the DNA of wheat dating back 8,000 years off the coast of the Isle of Wight, reports Reuters. That's about 2,000 years before ancient Brits began growing it, but scientists don't think this means that hunter-gatherers in the region were farming earlier than thought. In fact, the lack of wheat pollen at the site suggests it wasn't cultivated there at all. Instead, the scientists say it shows that these old inhabitants were in contact with farmers elsewhere in Europe and participating in a heretofore unknown "international wheat trade," reports the BBC.

"This is a smoking gun of cultural interaction," says a co-author of the study in Science. "The conventional view of Britain at the time was that it was cut off," but the find very much suggests otherwise. "We can only speculate how they got wheat—it could have been trade, a gift, or stolen." The best guess is that the wheat came from farmers in what is now France, reports NPR. It's also possible that a land bridge existed at the time linking Britain to Europe, one now covered by the English Channel. The research site itself, called Bouldnor Cliff, is now underwater, but researchers think it was used for boat-building back in its day. (Click to read about how other ancients used flour to try to predict the future.)

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