Join Microburin at Mesolithic Flixton Open Day? 23 August 2014

KIP14_T5_RWDear Microburins,

Having finished digging at Kiplin Hall, a quick trip south, I’m back in Yorkshire and looking forward to meeting friends – new, old and social mediaries – on Saturday 23 August at the Flixton Island mesolithic party-in-the-peat open day, hopefully arriving around 9am. Sunday is an open day too. Details follow below »

Kiplin, where I was supervising and training volunteers with two lovely colleagues for three weeks, was a splendid, friendly HLF-funded project with fantastic archaeology that spanned several thousand years in finds: KIP14_Lithic21scarsMesolithic chert (and a microlith!) to 17th-century musket balls, WWII bullet cases and a 1964-dated pigeon ring which we can trace. I’ll write more in a future post.

A Mesolithic chert core tablet from Kiplin test pits.


Stone Age Open Days – Flixton Island Mesolithic Site near Scarborough, 23rd and 24th August

Walk back 12,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age. See the latest excavations and finds, and quiz the expert archaeologists about life in the past.

Come along and learn about excavations of the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites from 12,000 to 11,000 years ago that once existed on an island in the now vanished Lake Flixton.

FREE site tours will take place on both days at 10.00am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm. Tours will last around 30 minutes.

On the Saturday, Tim Burkinshaw @CarrsWetland from The Carrs Wetland Project will lead tours at 11.00am and 1.30pm around the wetland landscape looking for clues to the shrinking peat and explaining how local farmers are helping to protect the heritage of the floodplain with its wildlife.

There will be opportunities to see some of the recent finds and talk to the experts about what they tell us about life at the end of the Ice Age.

Visit the bookstall where you can buy the small booklet (£2) or the illustrated book (£13) about the famous nearby site of Star Carr and the Mesolithic sites around Lake Flixton. All profits go towards further public events.

Artist Ruth Collett will be on site on Sunday afternoon to talk about her work interpreting the excavation in film and sculpture.

Getting to the site

Travelling from York, take the A64 to Staxton, then take the A1039 towards Filey. When you get to the village of Flixton, take the left hand turn down Flixton Carr Lane (if you reach the Foxhound Pub, you’ve travelled too far through Flixton village). Parking is available in a nearby field. For safety reasons, please park there and take the short walk to the site rather than driving up to the site huts.

More info | https://sites.google.com/site/starcarrfieldwork/Home

Spence

Bits of Old Stone | Lithics workshops for Community Projects

Dear Microburins,

OldStone500This is the third post in a trilogy reflecting recent activities. This one really makes me pinch myself to realise just two-and-a-bit years ago I was stepping away from a career as a senior manager at Cisco Systems leaping through the fiery hoops that were business process improvement, sales operations and customer services—across 83 countries, 23 time zones and operationally accountable for over $800M of annual bookings (gulp). Now look at the state of me?!

Old stone | New tricks

The Joy of FlintI was thrilled, back in February, to be invited by Kevin Cale to deliver a prehistoric lithics workshop for an after-school kids group and then for a local community group about to engage with fieldwork to gain a deeper understanding of their area. Kevin is a well-known Community Archaeologist supporting diverse projects across North Yorkshire. I’ve always loved imparting knowledge with enthusiasm, but these would be my first such sessions (probably since university in the late 80s) to an audience. That said, I did give a short presentation to the Teesside Archaeological Society about my Mesolithic research and excavations last year. However, teaching about stone tools—flint, chert and the like—is quite a different knapping event—without knapping on health & safety grounds. Indeed, the remit was less related to the rendition of flint tools, at which I am a keen amateur, than explaining how lithic technology can tell us about our past communities, their lifestyles and environments, within dynamic landscapes, over millennia and—more to the point—as a prelude to archaeological fieldwork.

I’m also very grateful to Clive Waddington (Archaeological Research Services Ltd.) for allowing me to use, adapt and distribute as a handout, an excellent diagram from his book (see Recommended Reading, at the end of this post). Proceeds from the sale of this book go towards maintaining a public trail in the Millfield area of Northumberland.

The audience

DogKennelLane“Understand your audience” is always the mantra. In this case, the first session was with a group of seven-to-eleven year olds in an after-school session known as the HOP Club—Hand on the Past—a fantastic Heritage Lottery-funded project run by Kevin. The second session was for the Boroughbridge & District Historical Society whose community venture, the Dog Kennel Lane Project, is coming together. The first episode of fieldwalking kicked off the weekend after the lithics workshop and flints were recovered. At the end of the day the two sessions were not that different and the same materials (and principles) worked for each. Each session lasted about two hours.

A Special Landscape

Glaciers500Being a native of North Yorkshire, despite subsisting for two decades in central London, I was already aware of the very special landscape these two groups are located within. The Vale of Mowbray (and Vale of York) is a vast flat plain between the east-facing Pennines and the south-westerly flanks of the North York Moors and Howardian Hills. Boroughbridge sits close the confluence of two major Pennine river drainages—the Swale and the Ure (Wensleydale) that join the Nidd to become the River Ouse which then flows through (sometimes over) York towards the mighty Humber estuary. These rivers were major transit corridors throughout prehistory. The vale was entirely glaciated in the Late ThornboroughDevensian with ice flows from the north, the Pennines (limestone-based cherts), Lake District (igneous rocks) and Scotland—it would not have looked dissimilar to the illustration here. Moraines and related glacial features persist, barely masked, in today’s landscape. In the early post-glacial and into the Mesolithic, with a climatic optimum around 5000 BC (and almost impenetrable deciduous forests), this area would have been a resource-rich “wetland” (or “washlands”) with kettle-hole lakes and rivers. Glacial tills, boulder clay and riverine gravels are especially important in understanding the raw material available to the prehistoric inhabitants of the area, more so when it is found “out of context”. To the east, glaciers dragged flint (and more) from Scandinavia and the bed of the North Sea and trapped huge lakes in the Vale of Pickering and Teesmouth. We find all of this in the archaeological record.

CBA174Into the Neolithic and Bronze Ages this was a very special place indeed. Only a few kilometres away is the immense ritual landscape comprising the Thornborough henges, cursus, pit alignments, stone alignments (the Devil’s arrows) and burial mounds. Jan Harding’s new book Cult, Religion, and Pilgrimage Archaeological Investigations at the Neolithic and Bronze Age Monument Complex of Thornborough, North Yorkshire (CBA Research Report 174) places recent investigations into a regional context.

With local evidence for human activity from at least the Early Mesolithic (there are cheeky hints of possible epi-Palaeolithic late glacial meanderings) up and around the river valleys and kettle holes, the scope for what the community might recover in their systematic fieldwork, where every find is GPS recorded, is tremendously exciting.

But how does one know what to look for, whether it is natural, what it is, how it got there, what it was for and how old it is?

The Turnip and Potato Game | Reversed Technological evolution?

Potatoturnip500Engaging the kids, who already had a grounding in the “Three Age System”, was not as difficult as I envisaged. However, Kevin and I were determined to knock a couple of misconceptions on the head (not literally): that prehistory = cavemen/women and that stone tools are inferior. Preparation for the latter involved a lovely half hour of flint knapping in my back garden at home using huge nodules collected on a beach near Hartlepool in January. A 5kg nodule produced an equally impressive giant core after flake and blade (and finger) removal.

Spalls flew in my face like shrapnel and ricocheted over a vast area! I only lost one finger, since darned back on.

Metal is better than flint?

Cutting500We kicked off with a game. Whilst a volunteer butler laid out my picnic dinner service, the kids were each given a potato or turnip, plastic knife and paper plate. Napkins were available but seemed incongruous. Each then had to try cut the end off one of the vegetables. It took an age for the first prize to be awarded. Timber500Technological ‘advancement’ has yielded plastic cutlery. What would be better? A metal knife? I demonstrated: it was faster but still a slow sawing process. And then, behold the flint flake. My potato end parted company with its body in only two sweeps of the gleaming infinitely-sharp edge. It was like Zorro on steroids.

There was a time before plastic and metal…the flint blade made a swishing noise not unlike the automatic doors on the original Star Trek. – Captain’s Log, Star Date 2014

Dinner500Point proven (limbs retained, no first aid needed)! We then looked at other technology for which stone tools are either comparable in success—or even better than—their metal counterparts. Bronze, for example, easily blunts and one has to wait a few thousand years for the advent of iron, longer still for steel.

The Generation Game

DKL_WorkshopThe HOPs Club kids were asked to bring along a photograph of at least three generations of their family, preferably four if a great grand parent was around. The concept of time depth and chronology is a very difficult one to deal with, especially when we’re travelling around 12,000 years to the last glaciers. Then, on a 6m role of wrapping paper unrolled over four tables, we drew out a timeline from the photographs back to 12,000 BP (50cm per 1k years). The kids added both “BC” points and “BP” (even though that’s AD 1950 in radiocarbon terms—a minor detail) so we could relate the two. We then assumed that about four generations represent a century and, with wizard maths skills, added how many generations each 1k years represented—that’s about 480 back to the Early Mesolithic post-glacial. While big numbers, I do think this personalises time and, it certainly showed across the tables, the vast tract that is the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer-fisher period. We then laid out real artefacts and replicas—a real hands-on exercise—from an 18th-century gunflint right back to Early Mesolithic microliths and and a tranchet axe. The same wrapping paper was used for the adult session later that evening—very successfully.

It was rather gratifying to pass over the entire Medieval, Early Medieval and Roman periods with a certain contempt for their short duration.

Hertzian Waves

Jewellers_LoupeIn the end we didn’t get time to play the Hertzian Waves game, despite careful choreographic planning. This game was supposed to demonstrate how Hertzian forces work on a dense siliceous material like flint when one hits it. The game was to be an around-the-room chain of children, a front kid gently bashed with an antler, a linked-hand Mexican wave motion flowing around (a bit like shaking a hosepipe) and a giant-sized blade made from foam-board springing of the side. In the end the foam-board blade worked in both sessions to show the morphology of a humanly-knapped blade and the nomenclature used by lithicists (distal, proximal, ventral, dorsal, platform, and so on). The kids all had jewellers’ loupe magnifiers too so that they could look for the characteristic signatures of humanly-knapped flint: a platform, bulb of percussion, ripples, dorsal scars, edge retouch, pressure flaking.

The End Game?

Gunflint500If there was a finale then it was to show that flint use persisted until very recently. A gun flint and firelighter flint demonstrated that raw materials and technology “do not age” when they are entirely fit for purpose. And obsidian, the sharpest material of all, is sometimes still used for its prowess as a cutting material—even in modern surgery I hear?

2am slot

Crewsell Crags (by kind permission)Image | Upper Palaeolithic flint tools at Crewsell Crags.

After both sessions were completed, a quick drive back from Roman Aldborough (ISVRIVM BRIGANTVM) to the hotel (Best Western in Boroughbridge, a fine value-for-money establishment) and before indulging in a round of sandwiches, I sat with a local landowner and businessman to look through his lithics. His fields are very close to the A1(M) and the pit alignments recorded in Jan’s book. There was a resplendent presence of every period from the Late Mesolithic and some whopping pieces that wouldn’t look out of place at Crewsell Crags (I dropped in on the way back) that hint at possible Early Mesolithic (if not earlier) human presence on the side of a palaeochannel visible in aerial photographs. Needless to say that the landowner intends some more fieldwalking and, perhaps, shovel pits (with sieving) under Kevin’s guidance.

To see such fascination with local heritage alongside a deep care to record it in the correct way is, most certainly, the greatest reward for any archaeologist and lithicist. All speed to their feet and elbows!

Spence

Recommended Reading

  • Handbook of British Archaeology (2008) by Roy and Lesley Adkins and Victoria Leitch
  • The Joy of Flint: An Introduction to Stone Tools and Guide to the Museum of Antiquities Collection (2004) by Clive Waddington
  • Prehistoric Flintwork (2005) by Chris Butler
  • Schools Prehistory website and blog | Resources for History Teachers

A flair for imperfections | Can we see Mesolithic kids?

Keywords | Mesolithic, Stone age, Stone tools, Lithics, Children, Apprentice

Image_Mesokid

A good article on PHYS.ORG by Karen Anne Okstad (15-Apr-2013) on one of my favourite subjects: childhood and apprenticeship in the Mesolithic—if not throughout prehistory.

“To most people, a useless flint axe is just that. To archaeologist Sigrid Alræk Dugstad (University of Stavanger), it is a source of information about Stone Age children.”

Read the article » | http://phys.org/news/2013-04-flair-imperfections.html

Suggested Reading

If you like the subject (and gender issues too), also read:
  • Ferguson, J. 2008. The when, where, and how of novices in craft production. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 15(1), 51–67.
  • Finlay, N. 2008. Blank Concerns: Issues of Skill and Consistency in the Replication of Scottish Later Mesolithic Blades. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 15(1), 68–90.
  • Ingold, T. 1993. Technology, Language, Intelligence: a consideration of basic concepts. In K. Gibsen and T. Ingold (eds), Tools Language and Cognition in Human Evolution, 449–472. Cambridge: University Press.
  • Johansen, L. and Stapert, D. 2005. Stone Age Kids and their Stones. In M. Sørensen and P. Desrosiers (eds), Technology in Archaeology. Proceedings of the SILA Workshop. Publishing from the National Museum Studies in Archaeology and History Vol. 14. Copenhagen.
  • Kamp, K.A. 2001. Where Have All the Children Gone?: The Archaeology of Childhood. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 8(1), 1–34.
  • Moore, J. and Scott, E. (eds). 1997. Invisible people and processes : writing gender and childhood into European archaeology. London; New York: Leicester University Press.
  • Sternke, F. 2005. All are not hunters that knap the stone – a search for a woman’s touch in Mesolithic stone tool production. In N. Milner and P. Woodman (eds), Mesolithic studies at the beginning of the 21st century, 144–163. Oxford: Oxbow.
  • Sternke, F. and Sørensen, M. 2009. The Identification of Children’s flint knapping products in Mesolithic Scandinavia. In S. McCartan, R. Schulting, G. Warren and P. Woodman (eds), Mesolithic Horizons, 722–729. Oxford: Oxbow.
  • Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past

Spence

Image credit: hans s | Foter | CC BY-ND

Very early Neolithic site | Londonderry N Ireland

derryLondonderry | Very early excavated Neolithic settlement that has been under analysis for a decade. Finds to go on show at the Tower Museum.

“A 6,000-year-old Stone Age village excavated in Londonderry has been heralded as being of global significance. The settlement is seen as of world importance as it is only the second of its type found in Ireland and is unique in the range of activities found to have been carried out there…”

» Belfast Telegraph 21 Feb 2013 | More UK Mesolithic sites & finds

 

Guest post | Mesolithic musings & the Howick home | Museums at risk

Dear microburins,

Photo Peter Robinson CC2.0

The “vertical pier” now Redcar Beacon | Photo Peter Robinson CC2.0

There aren’t many of us who blog about the Mesolithic, even fewer in north-east England. Here’s the latest read by These Bones of Mine (click to read) that calls out the pain and challenges of reduced heritage funding in the north-east. Heritage—sites, monuments, natural beauty, great museums, community projects—draw visitors and tourists who spend cash in the region. Most of our museums are free. There’s perhaps no fair balance between austerity and the need for inward investment (i.e. tourism and foot-fall generation), but many of us feel the knee has jerked too far in the wrong direction.

Economic recovery needs growth; growth needs nurturing and investment rather than continuous attrition? Social cohesion, a sense of belonging, societal participation and pride, “skin in the game” also require imaginative cultural and educational investment. So, for example, there are no museum-based archaeologists in the Tees area any more and two borough councils have no archaeological service whatsoever—including the one where the Saxon jewels and Roman villa were recently discovered. Ironic? They decided to spend tax-payers’ money on a “vertical pier”. Controversial?

Saxon JewelPerhaps there’s a sense of inevitability in a political climate where invasive development takes precedence over cultural asset management, social sciences and history are being side-lined in the curriculum, libraries are seen as liabilities, and heritage services are still being closed (Southampton is the latest)?

Spence

World Ends | Mesolithic dreamscape | Northern lights

Dear microburins,

Northern LightsWith the world ending today (21-Dec), and my perennial procrastination around lithic assemblage analysis (I promise 2013 would be better if it weren’t all ending today!) I wonder what our Mesolithic forebears made of this? How do you spin a story about green and purple lights for 6,000+ years if not 700 thousand years and more? What part of your social psyche does it re-enforce or challenge?

A Mesolithic child buried on a swan’s wing (Denmark)?

Spence