Digging Seamer Carr 1985-6 | A few Mesolithic Memories of VP85

Seamer Carr 1985I came across these old pictures, showing their age a bit (and mine), from the excavations at Seamer Carr, not far from Star Carr in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire.

Located in the path of a whiffy landfill (or more accurately “floating on peat”) site, the open area excavation was part of a bigger environmental project to reveal the extent of post-glacial Lake Pickering (more properly Lake Flixton), on which Star Carr is but one of now many Early and Late Mesolithic activity areas. I like the later stuff most, and at least one microlith array is known (i.e. an arrowhead configuration).

scan0010I was a volunteer under-grad at Durham (1984-7) and when not digging on the North York Moors, East Yorkshire or Poland, recording Anglo-Saxon churches in Tynedale or cataloguing Roman Samian Ware in the Old Fulling Museum attic, I squelched at Seamer Carr and in a few 1x1s at Star Carr.

It rained every day except one. It was one of the coldest summers on record. A force 9 gale laid every tent to waste despite 4 foot stakes—I slept in dad’s car in year 2 and learnt a thing or two about shift gears. We shan’t talk about the Elsan loos, nor about blue not being my favourite colour anymore.

scan0011   scan0009

However, we all delighted in warm team spirit, hot tea, weekly showers, Helen Patterson’s wonderful cuisine, Schadla-Hall dry wit, Ed Cloutman’s auger, fine Yorkshire beer, and laughs at the expense of the last person to be submerged to the waist, or higher, in the sump pit—”soak away” would not be accurate. The lithics were fine (very few on the spoil heap), dead horses emerged (well, one) and a bit of antler at “the other place”. Great memories, dried out, like the peat.


Wild Things 2.0 | Further Advances in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Research | Conference

Where The Wild Things Are 2.0 | Further Advances in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Research | Durham Conference January 2014

Quoted from Durham University website | Registration opens soon

DWTC2012The first Where the Wild Things Are conference, which took place in March 2012, hosted over 130 delegates from eighteen different countries. Over two days of talks presented advances in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology.

“The aim of this multidisciplinary conference is to provide a forum for the presentation, discussion and promotion of new and innovative advances in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic studies and Palaeoanthropology in general by established and new academics, with postgraduate students being particularly welcome.”

The next “2.0” conference will take place on 8–10 January 2014 and will include an opening reception on the Wednesday evening. An optional conference dinner will take place in the evening on Thursday. Papers and posters covering a wide range of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic research will be presented. Confirmed keynote speakers include leading specialists on the earliest humans in the Americas (Dr Mike Waters, Texas A&M University), African Late Stone Age (Prof. Peter Mitchell, Oxford University), and Mesolithic-Neolithic of Europe (Prof. Leendert Louwe Kooijmans, Leiden University).


I’m not involved in the conference organisation, just a groupie and a fan (and Durham archaeology alumnus 84-7) —with many good friends made in 2012. Do share on social media and subscribe to Wildthings news.

After the Ice | Major Star Carr exhibition opens at Yorkshire Museum | Mesolithic

Updated 24 May 2013

Star Carr new excavations 2010Coinciding with the publication of a new popular book, the Yorkshire Museum is hosting a major exhibition of artefacts and interpretations of the UK’s most famous and finds-rich Mesolithic landscape at Star Carr in Yorkshire, England. The exhibition is open from 24 May 2013 for a year and is widely covered in the archaeological and regional media.

Bringing together the artefacts previously scattered across many museums and repositories since Clark’s excavations in the 1950s, the exhibition aims to present the most recent investigations in context—the landscape, the re-colonisation of Britain (or expansion of the late Glacial “epi-Palaeolithic” long-blade communities such as those at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire), the environmental transformations, human beliefs, behaviours, mobility and the material culture that give hints to a complex hunter-gatherer-fisher society. These were modern humans, just like us.

On Thu 30 May 8pm there will also be a UK television Time Team special on Star Carr (Channel 4).

Acid Attack

IMG_4349Current archaeological research and interventions in the eastern Vale of Pickering, recently under the leadership of York and Manchester Universities, acknowledge the very short remaining lifespan of previously waterlogged organic remains. What were hard, crisp and tangible testaments to Mesolithic lifestyles—barbed points, supposed “head-dresses”, the working of antler, bone and wood, shale beads, birch rolls and more—are now feeble ghosts of their former selves, if they survive at all in the peat. Drainage and agricultural activities have desiccated and acidified the waterlogged matrix: it often has the pH of stomach acid today.

Image | Star Carr excavations 2010 (Microburin)

Where did they go?

StarCarrReconOn the other hand, fieldwork since the 1980s and more recently has proven that Star Carr and the Early Mesolithic lakeside activity areas were far more extensive than previously thought, at around 9000 cal BC. Hoof prints from undomesticated horses have been discovered on Flixton Island—perhaps their last stand? Mobility across a forested, watery landscape becomes apparent by looking at the lithic (flint) distribution and operational chains, from sourcing the raw material, knapping reduction strategies, caching-curation, re-usage and discard behaviours. There’s also now evidence for structures* of some sort and repeated returns to the area over generations. Unlike corollaries in southern Scandinavia, linked by Doggerland across what is now the North Sea, only human burials remain entirely elusive at Star Carr—for now.

*Conneller, C. et al. 2012. Substantial settlement in the European Early Mesolithic: new research at Star Carr. ANTIQUITY 86 (334), 1004-1020.

Click to viewIf not left to the elements, perhaps the dead were deposited in the lake, or on islands now denuded, or far “offshore”? Watery places retained significance throughout the prehistoric period—were the many barbed points deposited rather than discarded? Do we even know what we are looking for? Within a few thousand years the North Sea inundation separated Britain from Europe, and a rather different material culture evolved—the so called Late Mesolithic. One can argue for evolution or revolution, but much more research and dating is needed from the post glacial into the Neolithic where communities with very different life-strategies may have co-existed (northern European evidence hints at this).

The exhibition is a once-in-a-generation chance to see the most comprehensive and intimate story about our earliest post-glacial ancestors. People just like us, and yet so different. Or perhaps not? How many of our “instinctive” behaviours today bear testament to our hunter-gatherer-fisher past? Maybe we just live longer and refined the BBQ experience? I promise a review when I have seen it.


Also coinciding with the exhibition, the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) in York have published the online Star Carr Archive, funded by English Heritage, “with the primary aims of locating and cataloguing as many of the finds and excavation records as possible in order to enable further research”.

“Moore’s paper archive is missing. There is no known paper archive from Clark’s excavations and it is thought that all records must have been destroyed once the monograph (Clark 1954) had been published.”

Inevitably over the last 60 years, and more so with the separation of many of the written records, artefacts and ecofacts, some materials have been lost or misplaced. This initiative identifies, records and consolidates what remains into a single report.

Recent Press Coverage

Image top | Courtesy University of York

Här har aldrig varit tomt | This place has never been empty | Mesolithic Sweden

Exceptional Mesolithic landscape—or indeed “wetscape”—at Motala Ström in East Middle Sweden.

MotalaStrom_videoFurther to the last post about Kanaljorden and the impaled Mesolithic skulls, this wonderful short film was released on 25 May 2012 (18 mins with English subtitles) and takes a landscape perspective to showcase some of the incredible organic finds, as well as lithics too. It’s beautifully produced and features—in addition to breath-taking archaeology—some of the inimitable heroes of Scandinavian and Mesolithic archeology: Lars Larsson, T. Douglas Price and Fredrik Hallgren, project manager.

Decisions decisions

You can make up your own mind about the “phallus”, plus watch some of the beautifully decorated artefacts—dagger, club and more. As the documentary makes clear, Sweden is blessed with contract archaeology that allows extensive and wide-area investigations. It’s compelling stuff indeed, with over 400,000 finds since 1999, and continuing.

Make contact

Hey, if you like these blogs about state-of-the-art Mesolithic archaeology, why not Like and Share? On Twitter the hashtag #mesolithic works, and why not visit Facebook Mesolithic Miscellany (not my site)? My personal Twitter name is @microburin

Impaled Mesolithic Skulls in a Lake | Kanaljorden, Motala, Sweden still chills

Kanaljorden_Motala_Sweden_SiteIt may not be British Mesolithic, and it may be oldish news—originally press-released in 2011—but these discoveries still chill the soul. Visually macabre they may also be, but they offer ultra-rare glimpses of hunter-gatherer behaviours and social complexity. The site, discovered ahead of a railway construction, would have been interesting anyway, even without the extraordinary finds.



Adapted from original press release and online sources. Analysis continues and final reports are still some way off. Photos Fredrik Hallgren / Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård.

Archaeological excavations at the site Kanaljorden in the town of Motala, Östergötland in Central Sweden (2009–11) unearthed a complex Mesolithic site with ceremonial depositions of human crania in a small lake. The skulls have been handled through a complex ceremony that involved the displaying of skulls on stakes and the deposition of skulls in water. The rituals were conducted on an enormous (14×14 m) stone-packing constructed on the bottom of a shallow lake.

Kanaljorden_Motala_Sweden_SkullBased on the more intact skulls eleven individuals have been identified, both men and women, ranging in age between infants and middle age. Two of the skulls had wooden stakes inserted into the cranium. In both cases the stakes were inserted the full length from the base to the top of the skull. In another case a temporal bone of one individual, a woman, was found placed inside the skull of another woman. Besides human skulls, the find material also included a smaller number of post-cranial human bones, bones from animals as well as artefacts of stone, wood, bone and antler. The skulls have been dated to 6212–5717 Cal BC and two dates on worked wood 5972–5675 Cal BC), making them seven to eight thousand years old. The excavations were conducted by Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård, led by Fredrik Hallgren, in advance of the construction of a new railway.

“It will be interesting to hear of the results of the laboratory analysis of stable isotopes and—if very lucky—aDNA: are the remains of “dearly departed” or “trophies of defeated enemies.” Another interesting question is what were the state of the skulls when they were put on the stakes? Were they recently chopped-off heads or were they already de-fleshed? No other finds from that period offer any comparative material so it truly is a great mystery we are dealing with here!” – Tænketanken (blog)

Regional Background

Kanaljorden_Motala_Sweden_Leister“The town of Motala was brought to the attention of Mesolithic researchers ten years ago with the excavation of the large Mesolithic settlement Strandvägen, located by the shore of the river Motala Ström. The Strandvägen dig uncovered lithics, a large faunal assemblage as well as numerous tools of bone and antler, categories of finds seldom found in Central Sweden. The excavations at Strandvägen and another riverside site, Verkstadsvägen, continued through 2009–2011 in parallel with the dig at Kanaljorden. While both Strandvägen and Verkstadsvägen are located directly by the shore on opposite sides of the river, Kanaljorden is situated 80m from the river and instead on the edge of a small lake, now a peat fen.” more »

Read more

Lithics Studies Society | Journal 33 2012 now out | Why not join?

Lithics33The latest journal, No. 33 for 2012 is just out, and sexy. Why not join the Lithic Studies Society?

Flint and stone tools have been manufactured and used since the earliest times and arguably they represent the world’s oldest technology. The Lithic Studies Society was founded in 1979 to advance the international study of lithic industries, and particularly flaked and ground artefacts, in the broadest possible context. Member’s interests are diverse, spanning Palaeolithic to historic periods across many areas of the world. The Society provides a convivial forum for the exchange of ideas and information.

The Society has over 350 members from four continents. Membership is growing steadily, and they are always delighted to welcome new members. The Society is open to all who have, or would like to develop, an interest in lithic artefacts of any period. Members receive:

The membership year runs from 1st October to 30th September and the journal Lithics is published annually. The AGM takes place in October and all members are welcome. Individual rates are £15.76 (including 76p PayPal levy).