'a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory'


Archaeologists have found evidence of einkorn wheat in underwater excavations near the Isle of Wight:


This shoves the arrival of agriculture in the British Isles back a good 2,000 years to around 6,000BC. Just DNA, no seeds, so it’s unclear whether it was planted and harvested there or just brought over and ground into flour by travelers. The coastline was much further out during that point in the mesolithic before the ice melted and seawaters drowned those lowlands, but the researchers seem to be working on the assumption that the wheat traveled by boat among surprisingly (to them) well-traveled human cultures:

Whichever scenario is correct, the discovery suggests a very unexpected degree of Mesolithic period maritime mobility (and Neolithic-originating cultural practice) that has not hitherto been apparent from the archaeological record.

If now-inundated coastal zones around continental Europe and Britain really were home to more technologically-developed and geographically-connected Mesolithic societies than those more inland Mesolithic cultures on what is still dry land, then there should be other differences at the Isle of Wight site, apart from just the einkorn evidence.

Remarkably, some such evidence has indeed emerged there.

The archaeologists, working there have found evidence of a wider range of flint tool styles - including some Neolithic-style flint implements - and have also found around ten pieces of split timber, including three which had been split in a manner not seen elsewhere until the Neolithic.
Recent archaeological discoveries

The archaeologists say that the site may have been a Mesolithic boat-building encampment -perhaps the oldest such site yet discovered anywhere in the world. They have found evidence for woodworking, cooking and flint tool manufacturing. They also discovered pieces of Mesolithic string, the heel bone of a giant wild cow (aurochs) and DNA from dog (or wolf) and cattle (probably giant aurochs).

“The use of, or introduction of, cereal grains in Britain now appears to have been a much longer and more complex process than we had previously imagined,” said archaeologist, Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Bradford, co-author of the Science paper.

"Scientists’ ability to analyse genetic material found deep in ancient buried marine sediments will open up a totally new chapter in the study of British and European prehistory.

My working theory on this is that it shows agriculture (aka the Neolithic Revolution) as capable of moving through forager territory much quicker than previously reckoned - although clearly much slower than the breathtaking pace of change upon first contact with the Americas and other suitable temperate zones around the globe. It throws up all the usual questions of who these people were - conquering immigrants or locals converted, either through choice or coercion, to the new way of life. How sharp were the distinctions between farming and foraging societies? Did they trade? Did they fight? How long did they coexist, with one group occupying the fertile lowlands (including those now underwater, it seems) and the other sticking to the forested highlands or the coasts? At what point did the foragers capitulate and what, if anything, of their culture and traditions remained, adopted by those who superceded them?

Interesting stuff…