TEESSCAPES Teesside Archaeological Society eNews | Autumn 2013

The latest edition is out—packed with news and events! Two options are available:

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  • TEESSCAPES Autumn 2013Society News | 2
  • TAS Lectures | 4
  • Special Feature | 7
    Skeletons in your cupboard?
  • Activities and Events | 10
  • News Roundup | 16
  • Site Notes | 22
  • Browser | 25
  • About TAS and how to join | 26

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Uncover the hidden heritage of North East England

Spence | Twitter @microburin

TEESSCAPES Teesside Archaeological Society eNews | Summer 2013

The latest edition is out—packed with news and events! Available directly as a PDF download.

  • NAA Excavations at Greatham CreekEditorial Review | Professor Mick Aston in memoriam
  • TAS Lectures | After the summer break, the next lecture is Tue 24 September 7.30pm | How to get to Stockton Library
  • Special Feature | Northern Archaeological Associates report on surprising prehistoric and Roman finds at Greatham Creek in the Tees Estuary
  • Activities & Events | Archaeology Festivals | Fieldwork opportunities | Local and regional conferences, day schools, lectures and exhibitions
  • Site Notes | The latest regional projects and finds | Pipeline Update | Wear Stories
  • News Roundup | Stories and press coverage for our region
  • Browser | The latest recommended Browsing, Listening and Reading items
  • About TAS | Who we are | How to join | eNews Archive

Remember | eNews is free – spread the word about TAS!

Love the rich, distinctive heritage of North East England

Spence | Twitter @microburin

Mesolithic dig at Goldsborough, North Yorkshire | Every conceivable type of weather

Dirty-snow

Results and finds updated 26 Mar 2013
Keywords | Mesolithic,
Microlith, Flint, Archaeology, Excavation, North Yorkshire, Britain

Rachel Grahame

Rachel Grahame, Project Director

The final phase of the North East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project, funded by English Heritage and directed by Tees Archaeology with the North York Moors National Park Authority, saw a two-week long excavation at Goldsborough, near Whitby. The research project has investigated Mesolithic sites (c. 8000 – 3600 Cal BC) for potential on the high moor watersheds and in the lowland areas like Goldsborough—including sites that might have organic preservation, provide direct palaeo-environmental data (pollen and preserved palaeo-soils), retain features such as stake or post holes, hearths, etc., and yield radiocarbon dating evidence for which there is a complete absence in the whole of north-east Yorkshire. The project aims also included the testing of various archaeological and geophysical survey techniques in the identification and recovery of Mesolithic evidence as well as reviewing assemblages recovered in historical times and through volunteer reconnaissance activities.

◊ Click images to enlarge.Weather

Aaron-SC-Kev

Aaron, me & Kev

Fieldwork in March is always going to be a somewhat tricky affair. Fieldwork in early March on the Yorkshire coast, on a cliff top, is likely to be rather interesting weather, and it most certainly was!

Distant memories of warm (if wet) summer fieldwalking soon evaporated as the snow blizzards and hail rolled in from (apparently) Russia, over huge North Sea waves.

Project director Rachel Grahame commented:

“Despite the weather we achieved everything we set out to do—we have enough shovel pit data to compare to the fieldwalking and the geophysics, we found a ditch (probably Iron Age), a small gully and post pit (could be Mesolithic?) and an area of burnt sandstone, charcoal and unusual stones which could be the remains of a Mesolithic fire. Kevin has washed and re-bagged all the flint and other finds, and they are awaiting assessment by Peter Rowe. We also have environmental samples to be processed, in the hope of finding some dating evidence, and the unusual stones will also be going to a specialist.”

Blizzards | Return of the Ice Age?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal enthusiasts had come across flint scatters on ploughed fields close to today’s cliff edge—on one of the most beautiful and tallest coastlines in England. Tens of thousands of flints were recovered, unfortunately without grid plotting*, and so the project aimed to identify clusters, as well as conducting a geophysical magnetometer survey to see if features (such as burning) showed up.

*The importance of plotting finds accurately (preferably to the nearest square metre or at least 2x2m grid squares) and seeking professional archaeological guidance cannot be over-estimated. Collecting artefacts, including debitage, even from ploughed fields, removes evidence and cannot be undone. Flints in boxes have little meaning. Our shared ability to reconstruct and interpret past human activities is therefore compromised—forever.

See an example of the story that can be gleaned from a fieldwalking episode →

Memories of summer

Image_Goldsborough_Fieldwalking

Summer stroll

Flints & flags

Flints & flags

Gridded fieldwalking and shovel pits in previous seasons were aimed at pin-pointing specific areas of activity and interest. Flints (and some Whitby Jet) seemed to reflect activity right through the prehistoric period, with a few finely retouched Neolithic and Bronze Age items. All flints were plotted exactly using a GPS Total Station—hugely expensive and amazing devices.

Provisional results and finds news

The results of this final excavation—over 90 shovel and test pits, and a long trench to test the geofizz “anomalies”—will take time to assess. Tees Archaeology will be cleaning and analysing the finds, and there was at least one charcoal soil sample taken that will need careful specialist scrutiny plus several environmental soil samples to look at.

Selection of stones from Context 116

Selection of stones from Context 116

Features included a modest post hole with adjacent “slot” or scoop (not dissimilar to one found in Penny Spikin’s March Hill excavations in the central Pennines). It’s not inconceivable that it’s Mesolithic. There was a test pit, just behind the crest of the ridge, that produced an area of stones and cobbles, and an elliptical lens of charcoal around 20cm in diameter and 3-4cm deep. It seemed to be surrounded by some of the cobbles and there was a flint blade or two and some spalls between the stones. The stones themselves were odd in that they were different to the natural eroded sandstone and not native to the area. While glacial tills (boulder clay) do exist on the coastal margins south of Whitby (their likely source) they are unusual at this elevation and must have been brought to (or at least arranged at) this spot intentionally. Some stones were heavily burnt—or indeed half burnt (stone ‘a’ in the picture) with a clear line showing where the heat had affected only one side—and one metamorphic piece displayed linear “lattice” groove marks. Whilst these could be due to historical plough or agricultural damage, none of the other stones were similarly affected. All will be submitted to a geological specialist for examination.

Late Mesolithic Microliths similar to those found at Goldsborough

Late Mesolithic microliths similar to those found at Goldsborough | Westerdale, North York Moors

Peter Rowe (Tees Archaeology) will be conducting the lithics analysis of the flint assemblage. Inspection on-site showed at least one “narrow-blade” microlith fragment, some possible microburins, faceted bladelets and blades (some with edge wear from utilisation) and a few small scrapers. Many are consistent with Late Mesolithic activity, and the microlith (a backed micro-bladelet with some opposed edge retouch, possibly the barb from an arrowhead) is diagnostic. Fieldwalking finds also included bladelet cores of conical form and similar blades, bladelets and scrapers. The soils here are acidic and so bone and shell (calcium-rich) do not survive well, if at all. Even prehistoric pottery (Neolithic onwards), usually poorly fired until the Iron Age, succumbs to the soil conditions, erosion and ploughing. Lithics such as flint are generally all that survive, but their spatial patterning, the presence and absence of certain types, can still tell a story about activities, subsistence (microwear), raw material procurement, mobility and approximate dating.

Typical Mesolithic flint core

Typical Mesolithic flint bladelet core

One further test pit also revealed a small “V” section ditch that may be of Iron Age date. The inclement weather (snow and rain) showed a low-lying area away from the flint concentrations that retained water. Could this be the remnants of a palaeo-lake (or more accurately a modestly-sized pond or pool)? Mesolithic people tended to favour sandy well-drained spots close to rivers, streams, springs and open water—not only for ease of movement through a heavily forested environment, and as familiar “handrail” features in the landscape to return to—but also as focal spots (clearings) that would have attracted game and wild fowl and made hunting easier. A similar situation exists on the Eston Hills at the edge of the Tees basin where a modest wetland area and sandy ridges seem to have attracted both early Mesolithic (Deepcar type tools) and later Mesolithic (Narrow-blade geometric microliths) hunter-gatherers. A palaeo-pool also seems to have been the reason for a cluster of campsites at Esklets & Bimshaw, Westerdale, North York Moors.

Mesolithic background

Mesolithic winter

Enigmatic huts

The stone age people, modern humans like ourselves, that we’re searching for in the Goldsborough area could perhaps be called the “first British folk”. This was the time when the rising North Sea finally cut us off from the continent—Denmark, Holland and Belgium—drowning Europe’s “lost country”, Doggerland, and we truly became the British Isles that we know today, around 6400 BC. There was even a tsunami that finished off the job about 6100 BC, sending giant waves down the east coast and wiping out the last remnants of the lowland forests, rivers and marshes. Like everything British, we did things slightly differently after that, and there’s a big change in the stone tools that people used. The Mesolithic—middle stone age—is still over four thousand years before metal tools and two thousand years before the first pottery.

Microliths_Scalene_Triangles

Examples of tiny Late Mesolithic scalene triangle microliths | Westerdale, North York Moors

The first colonisers after the Ice Age glaciers thawed (north of the River Esk and out to sea), at places like Star Carr (Scarborough), had large and distinctive flint tools and antler harpoons. Once we were cut off from Europe the tools become a bit peculiar and get much smaller—like “plug-in” multi-purpose drill bits that could be used for many different purposes such as arrow barbs, needles, drills and knives. Our ancestors had the best DIY kits, perhaps even better than today!

It also looks like these tiny tools, some smaller than a fingernail, begin to appear first in Northern England and Scotland—places like Howick (Northumberland), East Barns and Echline (Firth of Forth) where families seem to have returned to the same places—maybe even settled—over many generations, rebuilding their turf or hide-covered huts several times. Is it the same at Goldsborough?

Final trench

The final trench

Were these the displaced people from Doggerland, victims of global warming, literally moved from their ancestral territories by ever rising tides—a second wave of settlers? One of the project’s aims is not just to find the evidence for the first “Britons” through their stone tools, but to find charcoal from their fires (and roasted hazelnuts were a particular favourite) that we might be able to radiocarbon date.

In the Press

In the meantime, here are the most recent press items:

◊ Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, why not Like at the end or share on Facebook and Twitter?

Spence

Suggested Reading

PS | if you’re new to the Mesolithic, or British prehistory, here’s some good, selective reading:

  • Adkins, R. and Adkins, L. 2008. The Handbook of British Archaeology (latest edition). Constable. Paul R Preston’s chapter on the Mesolithic is a good concise summary with a chronological overview.
  • Bailey, G. and Spikins, P. (eds) 2008. Mesolithic Europe. Cambridge University Press. Britain in context and full of good follow-up reading too.
  • Conneller, C. and Warren, G. 2009 (reprint). Mesolithic Britain and Ireland: New Approaches. The History Press. Good summaries of where we’re at, and some frustrations about shifting the agenda forward to new places.
  • Finlayson, B. 1998. Wild Harvesters: The First People of Scotland. Historic Scotland. A gentle journey through the knowns and unknowns. It looks like Scotland had visitors well before the Mesolithic. Visitors from continental Europe!
  • Smith, C. 1992. Late Stone Age Hunters of the British Isles. London: Routledge. A little dated, but a worthwhile overview of themes and evidence.
  • Waddington, C. (ed.) 2007. Mesolithic Settlement in the North Sea Basin: A Case Study from Howick, North-East England. Oxford: Oxbow. Some challenging suggestions for how we look at the Mesolithic in northern England against previous theories and models.
  • Wickham-Jones, C.R. 2004. Structural Evidence for the Scottish Mesolithic. In A. Saville (ed.) Mesolithic Scotland and Its Neighbours (229-42). Edinburgh: Soc Ant Scot. The volume itself is worth a read. Evidence for structural remains and, perhaps, even semi-permanence versus an entirely nomadic society, is constantly changing.

RARE OPPORTUNITY to buy full run of Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 1870-2009 | and help fund Mesolithic research!

Pre-auction offer expired | Now available through Bloomsbury Auctions for Jan 2013 sale

Download | YAJ Full run flyer (PDF)This is a rare opportunity indeed. Please help to spread the word. The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal has been published since 1870 and is the primary archaeological, historical, genealogical and social history vehicle for the historic county of Yorkshire. It includes major reports from the Mesolithic, right through the prehistoric, Roman and Medieval periods. A full run hasn’t been available at auction for at least 30 years.

I am selling this run to fund AMS radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples from my rescue excavation of a Late Mesolithic activity area at White Gill, Westerdale, North York Moors. This sequence of calibrated dates will be the first ever outside Star Carr using modern methods. Each sample costs about £350-£400 and I have many. This exercise has been assisted by professional archaeo-botanists (including the renowned Maisie Taylor who also supports Star Carr as a dendro-expert), English Heritage scientists and with academic sponsorship from National Park and regional archaeological practices.

About the Journals

Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal Vol. 1–81

A complete run (including the scarce vol. 5), plates and illustrations, some folding, some hand-coloured, some ex-library copies with stamps, various bindings, most early volumes in original green cloth, gilt, vol. 5 in library buckram, most later volumes in original wrappers, mostly four parts to a year until 1972, some wear to spines, condition generally very good with some volumes rubbed or occasionally worn, 8vo, 1870-2009.

YAJ volumes

RARELY FOUND COMPLETE | no set has appeared at auction for over 30 years
Est. Value £2,000 – £3,000

The Yorkshire Archaeological Society was founded in 1863 as the Huddersfield Archaeological and Topographical Association—to promote interest in the history and archaeology of the Huddersfield area. In 1870 it expanded its interest to cover the whole of Yorkshire, and today it is the main society in this field for the historic county. Throughout its history the Society has been active in publishing articles on many aspects of Yorkshire’s past and transcripts of important Yorkshire records | www.yas.org.uk »

Help Fund Archaeological Research

White Gill Samples

“There are no recent, reliable Mesolithic radiocarbon dates from the North York Moors”

The sale proceeds from this rare run of journals will fund AMS radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples from a Late Mesolithic activity area excavated at White Gill, Westerdale, North York Moors in 2000.

Permission to excavate a rapidly eroding moorland area was granted by the North York Moors National Park Authority and the Estate owners. The rescue excavation of 20m² revealed four hearth-based flint knapping events.

WhiteGill Isometric Plan

One of the hearths was surrounded by stones and an area of piled boulders. Other features included “flat surface” stones and a possible seat or anvil all of which had clusters of artefacts, including utilised blades, scrapers, awl-piercers, microliths—and refits. There was a possible post-hole and an area free of knapping debris that may indicate the location of a shelter. Every flint was spatially recorded, revealing activities—including microlith manufacture—over the excavated area. A rare jet fragment may have been curated.

White Gill re-fitting segmentsDespite over eighty years of largely unpublished flint collecting, there are few recorded features and no recent reliable radiocarbon dates from the prolific sites on the North York Moors. Samples from the fire-spots and hearth contained rosaceae—a short-lived taxa that includes crab apple, hawthorn and sloe. Analysis was generously provided by professional archaeo-botanists, with advice from English Heritage scientists. Lithic analysis is underway with a view to publishing the findings in due course.

Learn more about the project → | How to contact me

Many thanks
Spence

Rare opportunity to buy full run of Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 1870-2009 | and help fund archaeological research!

Please see later post

Mesolithic Research and Conservation Framework for England

Mesolithic Research and Conservation Framework for England | 2012-13

HowickThe framework is designed to represent the state of Mesolithic research and understanding today, and to inform future decisions, be it in identifying significant museum collections, deploying resources in a developer-led context, or to ensure that  archaeological research deriving from all sectors has currency.

Developing a Mesolithic Research and Conservation Framework is an English Heritage funded project to update the archaeology community’s priorities for future research into the period. The three phases of the project comprise the resource assessment, research agenda and the research framework itself. The project is devised to be updated periodically, thus continued involvement from contributors to the website and documents are encouraged!

who are you | can you contribute?

Contributions are welcomed from anyone interested in the Mesolithic, be they private researchers, or commercial, curatorial or academic archaeologists | Project Manager: Ed Blinkhorn University of York | » Learn more

Please note that I am publicising this intiative and do not intend any expressed or implied vested interest. However, I do have a personal subject matter interest and so I do support it wholeheartedly.

Spence