Jan 23, 2019 | Updated: 10:56 AM EST

DNA Evidence of Wheat Upsets Archeological History of the Crop in Early England

Feb 27, 2015 05:59 PM EST


When British researchers went diving in Bouldnor Cliff, a submarine archaeological site near the Isle of Wight in the UK, it would fit to assume that they hadn't quite banked on finding evidence of wheat beneath the waters. But when the researcher analyzed a core sample obtained from sealed sediments, microfossils with sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) of wheat species revealed that there might be far more to the story of the cash crop and trade in ancient Britain-perhaps even 2,000 years more than what the current history predicts.

According to a new study published this week in the journal Science, documenting the researchers' efforts, the DNA discovered reveals that wheat was present in Britain some 8,000 years ago, during what would have been part of the Stone Age. However, the shock comes in that the profitable farming crop was not cultivated in Britain for nearly 2,000 more years.

"We found ancient DNA evidence of wheat that was not seen in mainland Britain for another 2,000 year" co-author of the study and researcher with the University of Warwick, Robin Allaby says. "However, it was already being grown in southern Europe."

So, how did the British originally get their wheat?

While the researchers agree that continued studies may further unveil how the British obtained their wheat, and what structures may have existed to aid them in their pursuits of wheat, the team believes that their findings is clear evidence that ancient Britons likely traded with farmers from the mainland-upsetting current models which assume that these island-bound people were isolated from the rest of Europe in most early development.

"The conventional view of Britain at the time was that it was cut off" Allaby says. "[For that reason] we were surprised to find wheat. [Our discovery] will upset archaeologists."

"This is incredibly exciting because it means that Bouldnor's inhabitants were not as isolated as previously thought. In fact they were in touch, one way or another, with more advanced Neolithic farming communities in southern Europe."

While evidence is still shaky regarding the possibility of a land bridge that was left behind after the Ice Age connecting England and the rest of mainland Europe, DNA from the site also suggests that early Britons at the time were actively building boats which would have facilitated the movement of wheat from the south of Europe to the island nation. But how they received it, and with whom they traded, still remains largely a mystery.

"We can only speculate how they got wheat" Allaby says. "It could have been trade, a gift or even stolen."

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