Remarkable new archaeological discoveries are likely to completely rewrite a key part of British prehistory.
Scientific tests suggest that a major aspect of the Neolithic agricultural revolution may have reached Britain 2000 years earlier than previously thought.
The research – carried out by scientists at the universities of Bradford, Birmingham and Warwick – reveal that wheat, probably already ground into flour, was being used at a Mesolithic Stone Age site in around 6000 BC.
The discovery – just published in the academic journal, Science – is likely to be viewed with some degree of consternation by many archaeologists because it completely changes accepted views of what happened in Britain (and indeed most of western Europe) in pre-Neolithic times.
The species of domesticated wheat – an early form, known as einkorn – was identified by scientists from the University of Warwick, using DNA analysis. Although no einkorn seeds as such were found, a small discrete area of intense einkorn DNA was detected when geneticists tested samples of sediment, recovered by archaeologists from an underwater Mesolithic site in the Solent, just off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
The area was dry land 6000 years ago – but within 30 or 40 years had been permanently inundated by the sea, as a result of melting Arctic and other glaciers following the end of the Ice Age.