Neolithic bread found

| 22 October 1999

Two lumps of bread thought to be over 5,000 years old have been foundby archaeologists examining a site at Yarnton, Oxfordshire.

How the two pieces survived remains a mystery, but they shed new lighton the dietary habits of ancient Britons at around the timeagriculture was first developing.

Radio-carbon dating has put the age of the pieces at between 3,620 and3,350 BC, perhaps half a millennium older than the first Stonehenge.

The charred pieces were found at the bottom of a pit at a gravelquarry, and it might have been burnt during cooking and thrown away,or possibly ritually incinerated as an offering to a god. In the pitwere also tools, including a large flint knife, pottery and somecharred hazelnuts.

The bread is coarse with the consistency of a modern cereal bar, witha number of different cereal grains of which only barley can bepositively identified.

It was found during a routine sieving of soil which often revealssamples which could otherwise escape attention. Scientists have beenable to deduce that cereal grains were crushed to make up the flour,which was made into dough and baked on heated stones on an open fire.

David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage who funded thedig by the Oxford Archaeological Unit, said: "The Yarnton project isone of the most important in England. It has revealed a vivid pictureof shifting and changing occupation over 6,000 years, remarkably wellpreserved beneath the flood silts of the River Thames. Here we haveevidence that with farming came bread, the new staple of life."

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