SCOTS have been eating porridge for 5500 years, according to new research which traced the national dish back to Stone Age settlers in the Outer Hebrides.

Though oats were not introduced to Scotland until 600AD and barley porridge was previously discovered 2500 years ago, the new find on a number of Hebridean islets traces a wheat-based alternative back further – by about 3000 years.

Lead author and chemist Dr Simon Hammann of Bristol University said: “Our results represent the first direct evidence for the cooking of cereals in Neolithic pots from the 4th millennium BCE.

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“They indicate Neolithic communities in the region may have been consuming wheat between 3600 and 3300 BCE. Wheat may have been cooked with dairy products to produce a milk-based gruel or porridge.”

Farmers would mix dairy products with milk to create an early form of stew, which was discovered by chemical analysis on “incredibly well preserved” pottery fragments. They were unearthed in waters on ancient crannogs – artificial islands made by erecting shelters on lochs.

Co-author Dr Lucy Cramp said: “This research gives us a window into the culinary traditions of early farmers living at the north-western edge of Europe, whose lifeways are little understood.

“It gives us the first glimpse of the sorts of practices that were associated with these enigmatic islet locations.”

Ceramic vessels were scanned by chemists and have identified traces of lipids “strongly associated” with cereals, suggesting the two were cooked together as a milk-based porridge. The wheat uncovered was of “indeterminate species”, but may trace back to the modern relative that gives us porridge oats, Avena sativa.

Dr Hamman said: “Gas chromatography and high-resolution mass spectrometry were then used to analyse organic residues from these pottery remains. We detected molecular biomarkers for cereals, indicating wheat, and other foods that were cooked in the vessels.

“It shows wheat may have been more present in Neolithic diets in this region than previously thought.

“It may have been prepared with dairy products, perhaps as a type of milk-based gruel or porridge.”

A strong link was identified with the size of the pottery and its usage, with smaller mouthed vessels associated with dairy products.

Dr Hammann said: “Wheat may have played a larger role than previously thought in the diets of Hebridean Neolithic communities.”

He added: “Here, we demonstrate cereal-specific markers can survive in cooking pots for millennia.

“They reveal consumption of a specific cereal wheat that is virtually absent from the archaeo-botanical record for this region – illuminating culinary traditions among early farming communities.”

Project director Professor Duncan Garrow, of Reading University, said: “This research has hugely improved our knowledge of these sites.”

The research, published in the Nature journal, was titled “Neolithic culinary traditions revealed by cereal, milk and meat lipids in pottery from Scottish crannogs”.