OUR ancestors thousands of years ago were tucking into a hunk of bread and a slab of meat at dinner time - but researchers have dug up evidence which suggests they may have been able to add a little spice to their lives.

Reading University researchers revealed that our Iron Age cousins were jazzing up bland meals with Mediterranean seasoning, and even importing whole olives.

Archeologists working at Silchester Roman Town last year dug up an olive stone, along with seeds of celery and coriander, in a Late Iron Age well dating back before AD 43. Dill seeds were also found in a separate well dated AD 40-50.

Professor Michael Fulford, from the university's archaeology department, said: "These plant foods were all cultivated in the Mediterranean region and literary evidence shows they were part of Roman cuisine.

"Whilst the import of olive oil and wine during the Late Iron Age is evidenced at Silchester and elsewhere throughout southern Britain, we were unaware that olive fruits and seasonings were also being imported - until now.

"This unique discovery shows just how sophisticated Britain's trade in food and global links were, even before the Romans colonised in the first century AD.

"We take these culinary treats for granted but over 2,000 years ago, a journey to Britain from the Mediterranean would have taken several weeks.

"This is the first olive from Iron Age Britain!"

Other rare Iron Age finds from the dig include the skeleton of a small dog, similar to a modern-day poodle, with an estimated shoulder height of 29cm.

Professor Fulford said: "Very small dogs of this period are very rare finds.

"Only half a dozen or so examples of this period have been recorded across Britain and it may have been bred on the continent and imported to Britain - another luxury like the olive."

The rare items were uncovered during last year's excavation of Silchester, which the university has been researching since 1974.

Professor Fulford added: "We we are hoping for more finds this summer to take forward our rapidly expanding knowledge of Iron Age and earliest Roman Silchester."

The Silchester Open Days will be held on Saturday [21] and Saturday, August 4. Tours, talks, and demonstrations will take place at the free event, as well as mini-excavations for children.