People living on the Isle of Wight may have imported wheat at least 2,000 years before ancient Britain started farming it, say scientists.
It is widely thought that communities dependent on cultivation and livestock rearing first appeared in Britain 6,000 years ago – 4,000 years after agriculture first began in the Middle East.
But grain matching the DNA of wheat from the Middle East has now been discovered in an 8,000-year-old soil sample at Bouldnor Cliff on the Isle of Wight.
No trace of wheat pollen or cultivation were found, suggesting early settlers traded wheat long before they, or those on mainland Britain, started to grow it themselves.
The new research was led by academics at University of Warwick and first published in the journal Science.
Settlers who depended on domestic farming techniques started to disperse across Europe into areas occupied by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago. This was called Neolithization.
Farmers spread west from the Middle East, arriving in the Balkans between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago, the Mediterranean and western France about 7,500 years ago – and finally Britain about 1,500 years after this.