Britain's Earliest Rabbit
18 April 2019, 10:32 | Updated: 18 April 2019, 10:35
Britain's earliest rabbit has been found at a Roman palace in West Sussex - a discovery which reveals that the animals arrived in the country 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Rabbits are native to Spain and France and it had been thought they were a medieval introduction to Britain, but this fresh discovery has pushed that timing back by more than a millennium.
Radiocarbon dating of the bone, which was unearthed at Fishbourne Roman Palace , shows the rabbit was alive in 1AD.
The 1.6in (4cm) segment of a tibia bone was found during excavations in 1964 but it remained in a box, unrecognised, until 2017, when Historic England zooarchaeologist Dr Fay Worley realised the bone was from a rabbit, and genetic analyses have proved she was right.
The inhabitants at Fishbourne Palace were known to be wealthy and kept a varied menagerie, so the rabbit could have been an exotic pet.
Professor Naomi Sykes, from the University of Exeter, said: "This is a tremendously exciting discovery and this very early rabbit is already revealing new insights into the history of the Easter traditions we are all enjoying this week.
"The bone fragment was very small, meaning it was overlooked for decades, and modern research techniques mean we can learn about its date and genetic background as well.
"We are looking forward to telling people about our ongoing research this week. There's a lot we don't know about the origins of Easter, and we're learning more every day."
Dr Worley said: "I was excited to find a rabbit bone from a Roman deposit, and thrilled when the radiocarbon date confirmed that it isn't from a modern rabbit that had burrowed in.
"This find will change how we interpret Roman remains and highlights that new information awaits discovery in museum collections."