Since its publication in 1954 Star Carr has held an iconic status in British Mesolithic archaeology. The original excavations at the site recorded a large assemblage of bone and antler tools from a sequence of peat deposits at the edge of the Lake Flixton. Over 60 years later this remains the largest assemblage of bone and antler artefacts of its date in Britain and has been an invaluable source of information for life in the early Mesolithic. However, the interpretation of this material has been the subject of intense debate, and the assemblage has been variously described as the remains of an in situ settlement, a refuse dump, and the result of culturally prescribed acts of deposition. Fundamentally, these very different ideas of the nature of the site depend on differing interpretations of the environmental context into which the majority of the organic artefacts were deposited. This paper presents the results of recent work at Star Carr that helps to resolve the debate surrounding both the context of the assemblage and the motivations that lay behind its deposition.
In 2015 an engraved shale pendant was found during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site of Star Carr, UK. Engraved motifs on Mesolithic pendants are extremely rare, with the exception of amber pendants from southern Scandinavia. The artwork on the pendant is the earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain; the 'barbed line' motif is comparable to styles on the Continent, particularly in Denmark. When it was first uncovered the lines were barely visible but using a range of digital imaging techniques it has been possible to examine them in detail and determine the style of engraving as well as the order in which the lines might have been made. In addition, microwear and residue analyses were applied to examine whether the pendant showed signs that it had been strung or worn, and whether the lines had been made more visible through the application of pigments, as has been suggested for some Danish amber pendants. This approach of using multiple scientific and analytical techniques has not been used previously and provides a methodology for the examination of similar artefacts in the future.
Taylor, Barry (Cambridge University Press, 2018-02-07)
Since the 1970’s research into Mesolithic landscapes has been heavily influenced by economic models of human activity where patterns of settlement and mobility result from the relationship between subsistence practices and the environment. However, in reconstructing these patterns we have tended to generalise both the modes of subsistence and the temporal and spatial variability of the environment, and ignored the role that cultural practices played in the way subsistence tasks were organised. Whilst more recent research has emphasised the importance that cultural practices played in the way landscapes were perceived and understood, these have tended to underplay the role of subsistence and have continued to consider the environment in a very generalised manner. This paper argues that we can only develop detailed accounts of Mesolithic landscapes by looking at the specific forms of subsistence practice and the complex relationships they created with the environment. It will also show that the inhabitation of Mesolithic landscapes was structured around cultural attitudes to particular places and to the environment, and that this can be seen archaeologically through practices of deposition and recursive patterns of occupation at certain sites.
Milner, Nicky; Conneller, Chantal; Taylor, Barry (White Rose University Press, 2018-04-12)
This first volume of the Star Carr work provides an interpretation of the Star Carr site, one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Europe. Discovered in the late 1940s, the site is famous in the archaeological world for the wealth of rare organic remains uncovered. The 2003-2015 excavations directed by Conneller, Milner and Taylor aimed to answer questions about how the site was used. Much larger and more complex than ever imagined, the Star Carr site was in use for around 800 years. The excavations show that Mesolithic groups were highly invested in this place and continued to occupy the site despite changes in climate over this period. The findings include the oldest evidence for ‘houses’ in Britain, three large wooden platforms along the edge of the lake, antler headdresses and a unique, engraved shale pendant which represents the earliest form of Mesolithic art in Britain. The artefactual material provides new insights into Mesolithic life. Significant wooden artefacts were found which greatly enhances our understanding of how important wood (a material rarely recovered) was for Mesolithic people. In the analysis of other findings it is possible to see evidence for activity areas, such as crafts and tool repair associated with structures, an axe factory, as well as a number of caches. New finds of antler frontlets have increased our understanding of the diversity of human interactions with animals. Overall, despite the degradation, these excavations have provided a new understanding of life in the Early Mesolithic that challenges many of the preconceived views of this period in terms of the character and scale of activity and the degree of investment in a particular place in the landscape.
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