Britain Imported Wheat 2,000 Years Before Growing It
Early farming began in the Near East about 10,500 years ago. Farming first reached the Balkans in Europe some 8 to 9,000 years ago, and then crept westward. Locals in Britain, separated from the mainland by the relatively newly formed English Channel, did not start farming until about 6,000 years ago.
But an analysis of sediment from a submerged British archaeological site called Bouldner Cliff found something unexpected.
“Amongst our Bouldner Cliff samples we found ancient DNA evidence of wheat at the site, which was not seen in mainland Britain for another 2,000 years.” Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick.
“However, wheat was already being grown in southern Europe. This is incredibly exciting because it means Bouldner’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.” The work by Allaby and colleagues is in the journal Science. [Oliver Smith et al, Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago]
The researchers showed that the wheat remains are genetically more similar to Near Eastern domesticated wheat than to local distant cousins. And they found no evidence of pollen—meaning that the wheat was almost certainly imported.
In an accompanying Perspectives piece in the journal, archaeologist Greger Larsen of Durham University writes that the findings show that DNA analysis can help scientists tease out details about the historical movement of plant and animal species.