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EUROEVOL research reveals prehistoric agricultural hot spot

21 November 2012

14C dates: the spread of the Neolithic into Britain

Research undertaken by the Institute's EUROEVOL project team and colleagues at Plymouth University has revealed prehistoric central Scotland as being one of the earliest agricultural 'hot spots'.  

The study, undertaken by the European Research Council-funded EUROEVOL project in collaboration with Plymouth University suggests that stone-age Scots were at the vanguard of an agricultural revolution 6,000 years ago that swept away vast swathes of forestry and changed Britain’s landscape. Wiltshire, home to Stonehenge, was believed to be the cradle of British farming, but this new research provides evidence that early Scots who lived during the Neolithic Age (4000BC to 2500BC) destroyed fertile, deciduous woodland to make way for cereal crops around the same time that large areas of southern England were being stripped of their forests.

The finding is significant because it challenges the widely held notion that Britain’s agricultural revolution started in England.

The research results, obtained using carbon dating of ancient cereal grains recovered from archaeological sites and historic pollen records to help determine the origin and spread of Neolithic farming in Britain, are receiving media coverage.

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Stephen Shennan, who is leading the 4-year ERC-funded project investigating the cultural evolution of neolithic Europe, reported on how Europe's first farmers came, then went ('a dramatic history of booms and busts') in a presentation at the recent American Anthropological Association meeting in San Francisco, California. 

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The aim of the EUROEVOL project is to provide the basis for a new account of the role of farming in transforming early European societies, c.6000-2000 calBC, focusing on the western half of temperate Europe, where the available data are best, and integrating culture historical patterns, for example in monuments, with demographic, economic and social processes. 

The European Research Council's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-initiated frontier research across all fields of research, on the basis of scientific excellence.