Using their brand new radiocarbon dating technique on traces of milk fats extracted from within the fabric of the pottery fragments, researchers from the University of Bristol were able to narrow the timeframe for the pottery collection to a window of just 138 years, to around 3,600BC.
The results indicate that at this time, the area around what is now Shoreditch High Street was being used by established farmers who ate cow, sheep and goat dairy products as a central part of their diet. These people were likely to have been linked to the migrant groups who were the first to introduce farming to Britain from Continental Europe around 4,000 BC, only a few centuries earlier.
This is the strongest evidence yet that people in the area later occupied by the city and its immediate hinterland were living a less mobile, farming-based lifestyle during the Early Neolithic period. Early Neolithic houses, though very rare in southeast England, have been found at Horton in Berkshire, Cranford in Hounslow, and Gorhambury in the Colne Valley. The discovery of such a large group of pottery at Principal Place suggests that a similarly significant settlement may have existed nearby.
Eating habits of London's early farmers
By using lipid analysis on Early Neolithic pottery from inner-city London for the first time, fascinating new details have been revealed about the food that people ate in what is now Shoreditch, and how they ate it, some 400 years or so after farming first arrived in Britain.
Results suggest that the pots had been used to process dairy products and to cook beef and mutton. There was very little in the way of pig products, which could suggest that pork was not stewed but cooked on a spit.
In addition to the scientific findings, the form of pots themselves proved interesting, with some having been decorated by pressing fingertips or roe deer hooves into the clay. This suggests that, even at this early date, people paid attention to the design as well as the function of tableware. It is fascinating to think that the fingerprints of their makers can still be made out 5,600 years later.