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 Tuesday, 12 October, 1999, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Oldest bread in Britain
Baked by England's first farmers over 5,000 years ago
Baked by England's first farmers over 5,000 years ago
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Small pieces of burnt bread, discovered in a pit at Yarnton in Oxfordshire, UK, have been dated and found to be 5,500 years old. This makes the Neolithic bread the oldest ever found in Britain.

The pieces turned up when the soil from the recently-excavated pit was mixed with water, allowing light material to float and be removed.

Initially, the burnt fragments were mistaken for pieces of wood charcoal, but when Dr Mark Robinson from the Oxford University Museum examined them through a microscope, he could clearly see partially crushed grains of barley.

Flint knife: Religious offering?
Flint knife: Religious offering?
The material was analysed at the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and at Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, New Zealand.

From the amount of radioactive carbon in the sample, it is estimated that the bread was baked between 3,620 - 3,350 BC.

A flint knife was also found in the pit, along with over 200 flint flakes, some of which had been sharpened and serrated.

Crumbs of pottery were also discovered, along with hazelnut shells and apple cores.

Archaeologists speculate that it may have been a rubbish deposit, but the presence of a knife in good condition and the bread suggests it was a religious offering.

The bread was made by the first farmers to arrive in central England having migrated from mainland Europe.

They cleared the extensive forests and planted wheat and barley as well as keeping cattle and pigs.

See also:

20 Jun 98 | Science/Nature
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