Scientists have discovered ancient wheat DNA in the Solent that could change the way we understand Britain’s history.

The find shows English hunter-gatherers traded with continental wheat farmers at least 2,000 years before agriculture came to Britain.

The DNA was recovered from an underwater archaeological site off the Isle of Wight.

In 8,000 year-old sediment cores from Bouldnor Cliff, they found sequences that matched Near Eastern wheat strains, but no evidence of the crop's cultivation or any trace of pollen.

Since agriculture was unknown in Britain until about 6,000 years ago, it suggests that trade between hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers must have existed for thousands of years previously.

The research sheds light on the early stages of the Mesolithic-to-Neolithic transition, during which farming advanced across Europe from east to west.

Experts disagree on how quickly the change came to Britain - whether migrating farmers rapidly displaced indigenous hunter-gatherers or whether hunter-gatherers gradually moved over to the new way of living.

When the wheat DNA was deposited, the English Channel was yet to be formed by melting glaciers and Britain was connected to mainland Europe.

Bouldnor Cliff, identified as the site of an ancient Mesolithic settlement in 1999, lies 11 metres (36 feet) below the surface of the Solent near Yarmouth.

It forms part of the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation.

Lead researcher Dr Robin Allaby, from the University of Warwick, said: ''What we found ... has revealed that the inhabitants of the site were 2,000 years ahead of their time.

''Eight thousand years ago, the peoples of mainland Britain were firmly settled in the Mesolithic age and leading a hunter-gatherer existence.

''We found ancient DNA evidence of wheat that was not seen in mainland Britain for another 2,000 years.

''However, it was already being grown in southern Europe.

''This is incredibly exciting because it means Bouldnor's inhabitants were not as isolated as previously thought.

''In fact they were in touch, one way or another, with more advanced Neolithic farming communities in southern Europe.''

The findings are reported in the journal Science.

Dr Allaby said many questions remained unanswered and more research was needed.

''What was the relationship between the inhabitants of Bouldnor Cliff and the continent?'' he added.

''Do the findings prove that trade links existed between Britain and the continent?

''How were the pre-submerged land bridges used and what other evidence is there under the sea of Mesolithic to Neolithic transition in Britain.''