Stone Age Britons traded with European farmers 8,000 years ago
Archaeologists have concluded that pre-agricultural Stone Age hunter-gatherers on the Isle of Wight 8,000 years ago obtained domesticated wheat from farmers on the continent of Europe. That is 2,000 years earlier than people were farming in England.
English archaeologists said in a paper published in February 2015 in the journal Science that they’ve found evidence of wheat at a Middle Stone Age site at Bouldnor Cliff now underwater off the northern coast of the Isle of Wight, which is located off the south coast of England.
One of the researchers, Robin Allaby said the finding of einkorn wheat shows there was contact between pre-agricultural Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) people from the Isle of Wight and New Stone Age (Neolithic) European farmers, possibly via a land bridge in southern England. The finding may require scholars to reassess the origins of agriculture in the British Isles.
The DNA of the wheat, which was found in submerged soil or sediment at Bouldnor, matches wheat first domesticated in what is now Turkey.
Map of the Isle of Wight with its location (inset, in red) in the United Kingdom ( Wikimedia Commons )
“The find suggests these hunter gatherers forged relationships with their farming neighbors and maintained this relationship until they adopted agriculture for themselves,” said the IBTimes UK news website. “Scientists reconstructed changes in the plant and animal species at the Bouldnor site before it was submerged. They found sedimentary ancient DNA sequences that matched strains of wheat from the Near East - but no trace of cultivation.”
Allaby told IBTimes UK it was known that around 8,000 years ago people of the Mesolithic lived near and had interactions with people of the Neolithic. Their cultural interactions and communications went on for more than 1,000 years, but the nature of them is not known. This latest finding may shed light.
Contemporaneous with the wheat trading at Bouldnor two agriculture types were moving north through Europe. One came from the east of the British Isles along the Rhine and Danube rivers, and one followed the Mediterranean coast and reached France to the southeast.
University of Warwick archaeologists examined wheat DNA taken from sediment core samples at a now-submerged archaeological site off the Isle of Wight. They found the wheat, of a Near Eastern strain, dates back 8,000 years.
Allaby said the Bouldnor Cliff site was a boat-building area. The people did not live there. He told IBTimes the archaeologists found boat-building technology about 2,000 years ahead of its time for that area that isn’t found on the mainland of the United Kingdom in that time frame. Also, the stone tools are of the sort found in northern France, not mainland UK.
“There was evidence of eating, hazelnut shells, a big part of the Mesolithic diet. They were building boats and eating their sandwiches,” Allaby said.
Professor Vince Gaffney, chairman of the University of Bradford’s landscape archaeology department and not involved in the study, told the Daily Mail he doesn’t think the wheat was grown on the Isle of Wight but rather was traded from Europe.
“Wheat, of course, is a signature for farming, but this is 2,000 years before the onset of framing in Britain,” he said, “and at this time the nearest farmers were either in the south of France or possibly as far away as the Balkans, thousands of miles across continental Europe. This tells us rather than the traditional model of farming arriving with colonists or some sort of invasion, the ideas and concepts of farming must have arrived several thousand years earlier.
Featured image: Artist’s depiction of Stone Age peoples ( Wikimedia Commons )
By Mark Miller