Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago

Science  27 Feb 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6225, pp. 998-1001
DOI: 10.1126/science.1261278

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Early wheat movement into Britain

The transition into the New Stone Age, or Neolithic period, in Great Britain and Europe was characterized by a change from hunter-gatherers to farmers. However, the early stages of this transition are not well understood. Smith et al. studied archaeological remains at an 8000-year-old site that has been underwater ever since the Neolithic (see the Perspective by Larson). The finds include evidence of wheat (or a relative of wheat) 2000 years before the first documented farmers in Britain. It seems that trade may have preceded the adoption of farming.

Science, this issue p. 998; see also p. 945


The Mesolithic-to-Neolithic transition marked the time when a hunter-gatherer economy gave way to agriculture, coinciding with rising sea levels. Bouldnor Cliff, is a submarine archaeological site off the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom that has a well-preserved Mesolithic paleosol dated to 8000 years before the present. We analyzed a core obtained from sealed sediments, combining evidence from microgeomorphology and microfossils with sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) analyses to reconstruct floral and faunal changes during the occupation of this site, before it was submerged. In agreement with palynological analyses, the sedaDNA sequences suggest a mixed habitat of oak forest and herbaceous plants. However, they also provide evidence of wheat 2000 years earlier than mainland Britain and 400 years earlier than proximate European sites. These results suggest that sophisticated social networks linked the Neolithic front in southern Europe to the Mesolithic peoples of northern Europe.

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