Stone Age Britons Were Eating Wheat 2,000 Years Before They Farmed It : The Salt Scientists have recovered cultivated wheat DNA from an 8,000-year-old submerged site off the British coast. The finding suggests hunter-gatherers were trading for the grain long before they grew it.
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Stone Age Britons Were Eating Wheat 2,000 Years Before They Farmed It

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Stone Age Britons Were Eating Wheat 2,000 Years Before They Farmed It

Stone Age Britons Were Eating Wheat 2,000 Years Before They Farmed It

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Scientists have learned a lot about our distant ancestors from DNA that's thousands of years old, like the fact that we've inherited some Neanderthal DNA. Apparently, our ancestors mated with them. Today, NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on DNA evidence that moves on from paleo mating to paleo eating.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: About 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers in the Near East figured out how to grow cereal crops, like wheat. The farming culture spread, and wherever it went, people traded in their spears for plows. That's the conventional view. Apparently, it was more complicated than that. Evidence comes from archaeologists who've been digging into a submerged cliff in the southern part of Great Britain. They found tools, burned nutshells, animal remains and worked wood.

ROBIN ALLABY: We sort of got the lunch spot of this boat-building workshop 8,000 years ago.

JOYCE: Robin Allaby is a molecular archaeologist at the University of Warwick in England. He says even though the locals could build boats, they were still hunter-gatherers. Agriculture didn't take off in Britain for another 2,000 years. And yet, he found DNA from cultivated wheat along with the lunchtime paraphernalia - no wheat pollen at all though. So it wasn't grown there, which meant that Brits must have been getting wheat from someone else, grown somewhere else. Writing in the journal Science, Allaby says apparently, Stone Age Britons weren't isolated on their little island. It seems they were getting their wheat from Europe, where agriculture had already established itself.

ALLABY: They were perfectly happy with using the products of agriculture, but they didn't actually start farming themselves. They were interacting with the farmers some way away, contributing to this process, which is not the conventional view.

JOYCE: Allaby suspects that farmers from what is now France established a regular wheat trade across the English Channel, which meant the Stone Age Brits could have their cake and eat it too. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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