About

Spencer at HelmsleyHello, thanks for visiting. I’m Spence and I am passionate about Mesolithic archaeology. I’m also a seasoned global Sales Operations professional—but focused here, without apology, on my lifelong interest in broken stones.

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microburin | a characteristic waste product from the manufacture of lithic tools by creating a notch in a blade and breaking obliquely at the notch to produce a blade segment, sometimes confused with an authentic burin, which is characteristic of the Mesolithic, but which has been recorded from the end of the Upper Paleolithic until the Calcolithic. | » see how it’s done (YouTube)

about my passion

The Middle Stone Age spanned the thousands of years between the last ice and the pesky mound-builder “farmers” of the Neolithic—say 10,000 to 3,500 BC, or about 400 generations ago. Our hunter-gatherer-fisher brethren pottered around at a time of significant change. Rising sea levels, or sinking if you were Scottish. The disappearance of Doggerland that joined Britain to Denmark, Holland and Belgium. Perhaps the Scottish-Norwegian tsunami in 6,100 BC didn’t help much—the wave would have been 70ft | 21m high. Not good. | » watch a 78ft wave being surfed (BBC)

Star Carr Excavations 2010The period in Britain is particularly well-known for the site of Star Carr (9,000–8,500 BC) where an outstanding array of antler harpoons and headdresses have been discovered in exceptional preservation conditions. The site has just been scheduled (protected), funded for more research, because it’s drying out, more acidic than your car battery, and won’t be around for long—maybe another generation at most. This is the location of “Britain’s oldest house” but may have been a rather more special place in a post-glacial landscape.

about me

Varsity Pub, Durham

Old places revisited | this is the corner I used to work in, the original Dept. Archaeology, Saddler Street, Durham—now an open-air terrace of the Varsity pub.

Born in North Yorkshire in the liberating 60s (nylon and polyester), I studied archaeology at Durham in the late 80s when Emeritus Prof. Dame Rosemary Cramp led the way—the Saddler Street department is now the Varsity pub-diner and my office corner, where I drew up Danby Rigg excavation sections, is now a roof terrace serving any drink of your choice. And an 80 bob beer in the Shakespeare, the archaeologists’ pub of old, costs a great deal more today! | where I got dirty

operationally diverse

Serious businessSince then I have been working as a senior Sales Operations professional for a number of global corporations. I have been “mom” and conscience to hundreds of sales people, designed and improved processes, trained the untrained, managed off-shoring, built and inspired customer service teams across 85 countries, every conceivable culture, managed multi $M budgets against $Bn targets.

Cisco Sales Training | Emerging Markets 2009

Cisco Sales Training | Emerging Markets 2009

I can be yelled at in more than 85 different ways and still smile. Neat. Nearly shot in Sao Paulo Brazil, and chased by security guards around Moscow after a misunderstanding—the hotel fire exit staircase only had door handles on one side, on all 70 floors, no phone, no food, no hope. I’m convinced somebody encamped under my bed the rest of the week, but good manners negate having a look.

I live in central London for my sins, with many boxes.

today

Iron Age House built by young offenders

Replica Iron Age house built by young offenders on community payback | Ryedale Folk Musum.

I am now on a career sabbatical for a while to re-engage with my passions for prehistory, cultural heritage management and the joinedy-up bits between academia, the public and communities. We all share a stake in our heritage because, without understanding what our families did in the past, how can we know what we’ll do next?

Rising sea levels; restricted access to water and mineral resources; cultural integration and sometimes apposition and friction; power-broking and conflict. Does it resonate?

right now?

Mesolithic Office

Leased Mesolithic Office | to lay out the broken stones.

I’m writing up a rescue excavation I did in 2000 at White Gill, Westerdale, North York Moors. For a 20m sq “activity area”, rather modest, what was uncovered is interesting. Campfire-based flint knapping and tooling; activity areas for scraping hides and things; cutting meat; a suggestion of juveniles; perhaps “Britain’s oldest worked Whitby jet“; and a possible and unparalleled “post hole” in an area strangely free from sharp and nasty flints that would make sleeping somewhat unpleasant. Or at the very least, it is a “hole” (humour).

what do I want to do?

A quick sketch for the loved one

A quick sketch for the loved one | microburins and microliths explained?

I want to populate and engender a distant period in our past. When you layer people, their lives, their children and elders, their priorities, insecurities, challenges, stories and memories, successes and their humanitypeople just like you and me—upon the artefacts we dig up, you can only then start to ask how and why they did what they did, why we do what we do today, and what on earth we will do next. We tend to repeat past mistakes, and we seldom learn from those that tried it already.

hazelnut relations | where is the love?

Where is the love?In homage to another great Mesolithic blog, the humour of Richard Bradley, distinguished prehistorian, is not lost on Mesolithic archaeologists. In 1984* he wrote:

“… successful [Neolithic] farmers have social relations with one another, while [Mesolithic] hunter-gatherers have ecological relations with hazelnuts.”

Limpet or I shootLike my friends at hazelnut_relations, I very much “believe we can have a social and personal archaeology, also of earlier prehistoric societies.” A fair few of us want to know, explore and enjoy more. Mind you, they did eat a shed-load of hazelnuts and collected limpets by the million, whether for rubbery eating or fishing bait. Anyone for a McLimpet® happy-wrap?

*Commenting on the Mesolithic being treated purely as an “economic phenomenon”, he did also say that this approach is “no longer acceptable.” | Bradley, R. (1984) The social foundations of prehistoric Britain, p11. Longman.
Conneller, C. & Warren, G. (eds.) (2006) Mesolithic Britain and Ireland: New Approaches. Tempus Publishing, Reprinted (2009) The History Press.
Young, R. (ed.) (2000) Mesolithic Lifeways: Current Research from Britain and Ireland. Leicester Archaeology Monograph No. 7.

back to the future

What will we do when the oil runs out? What will we do when the oceans rise? When we’re held to ransom for critical minerals? What will you do when the forests are depleted, a crop fails (like palm oil, potatoes proven), a virus spreads, or the water runs out (Jordan Valley, Aral Sea, South Horn, even the UK), or gets too plentiful (Bangladesh, Pacific Islands)? And when antibiotics stop working, without a viable alternative—remember where aspirin comes from, and I don’t mean your bathroom cabinet?

For every one of these there is a past corollary that shows us how humanity might react—locally, nationally, globally.

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