Neolithic bread found at Yarnton

Pic of ancient bread University archaeologists have unearthed two 5,000-year-old pieces of bread—the earliest fragments of bread to be recovered in the British Isles. They were found during a dig at Yarnton near Oxford by members of the Environmental Archaeology Unit of the University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Archaeology Unit.

Dr Mark Robinson, Director of the Environmental Archaeology Unit, said: `This find gives us extra information about the way cereals were used by the early Neolithic Britons. We had always assumed they made bread but this is the first direct evidence of that. The bread was charred and was found in a pit along with a large flint knife and other tools, fragments of pottery, and charred hazelnuts. This suggests it may have been part of a ceremonial offering.'

The bread consists of a number of coarsely ground grains, one of which has been identified as barley. The fragments (pictured above left) measure less than one centimetre across and were discovered when archaeologists were floating and sieving soil samples taken from the dig to recover small biological remains. The age of the samples was confirmed by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit using radiocarbon dating techniques which suggest the bread dates to between 3,620 and 3,350 BC.

The discovery was part of a much wider programme of palaeoenvironmental work at Yarnton, largely funded by English Heritage. Earlier work at the site by Museum geologists unearthed the remains of a 150-million-year-old pliosaur, now on display in the Museum. Work on site is now complete but archaeologists will conduct further laboratory analysis before publishing their final report.

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