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Ancient Wheat

DNA isolated from a submerged archaeological site off of Britain indicates that Stone Age inhabitants were importing wheat into the region thousands of years before wheat was grown in the region, a team of UK researchers report in Science this week.

They sequenced DNA found in 8,000-year-old sediment samples from a site off the Isle of Wight. These DNA fragments — and the lack of any wheat pollen — indicated the presence of wheat in Britain some 2,000 years before people there began to grow cereal crops.

Senior author Robin Allaby from the University of Warwick suggests that the Stone Age Britons were importing the crop from continental Europe, most likely France.

"They were perfectly happy with using the products of agriculture," he tells NPR, "but they didn't actually start farming themselves. They were interacting with the farmers some ways away, contributing to this process (of creating a Neolithic agricultural society), which is not the conventional view."

The Los Angeles Times notes, though, that there is a 400-year gap between the ages of these samples and when agriculture is thought to have arisen at nearby European sites. Allaby and his colleagues suggest that the older farming sites may now be submerged.