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28 August 2016
Britain's last hunter-gatherers discovered

Using an innovative new bone collagen analysis technique, archaeologists from the Universities of York, Cambridge, and University College London have identified rare human bones dating to the Late Mesolithic era, around 4000 BCE, just prior to the arrival of farming in Britain.
     There is a near absence of human remains in Britain from this period, however the remains of six human individuals have been found on the small island of Oronsay, in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.
     Analysing tiny pieces of bone from the site of Cnoc Coig on Oronsay (Scottish Inner Hebrides), researchers determined the species of 20 previously unidentifiable fragments, confirming 14 of them as human. Further tests were made to probe the diet of Britain's last forager groups, their relationship to the earliest evidence for agriculture, and the transition from hunter-gatherer-fishers to farmers.
     Based on previous findings, it was assumed that hunter-gatherer foraging was fairly rapidly replaced with the arrival of agriculture in Britain, resulting in a sudden dietary shift, however this recent discovery suggests that in some parts of the UK, diets were based largely on marine foods even after the arrival of agriculture.
     Lead author Doctor Sophy Charlton states that: "Analysing previously unidentified bone fragments shows us that both hunter-gatherer-fisher and farming lifestyles potentially co-existed on the West coast of Scotland for several hundred years. Further analysis has the potential to greatly clarify our understanding of the transition to agriculture in Western Scotland and more broadly across Britain. Our findings also illustrate how information can be obtained from previously overlooked material. So much research potential lies dormant within 'unidentifiable' prehistoric bone fragments, and there is consequently significant potential for the future application of this method to other prehistoric sites."

Edited from ScienceDirect, EurekAlert!, PhysOrg (11 August 2016)

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