About the microburin header image | Teesside oasis

Liminal Land of Moors and Cliffs, Molten Iron, a Sea of Ships and Turbines

Dear microburins,

cropped-image_emc_banner_overlay2.jpgA few folks have asked about the header image on this blog. The background image is a regenerating birch-ringed wetland on the Eston Hills, an outlier of the North York Moors overlooking the Tees estuary. The views extend northwards over industrial Teesport and Middlesbrough, with the petro-chemical industries, controversial gas power plant (and domino cascades of infuriating pylons because subsurface cables were too expensive for the North) that creates supercell plumes of artificial steam clouds which reflect the orange flares—so that it never gets dark on Teesside. The haunting glow can be seen from even the most secret dales.

Wiki Commons | CC | Stephen McCullockTo the north-east are the now-rescued blast furnaces on the coast near Marske and South Gare, with the offshore wind turbines providing a cocktail stick backdrop. As a kid, and even today, driving past the furnaces when they’re fired up is like witnessing a man-made volcano—hell, fire, molten iron and limestone—with its own esoteric and brutal beauty even if many wish it wasn’t there. Teesside is a 19th-century man-made contrivance. You can smell and taste it too. Farther north, the vista takes in Hartlepool beyond the nuclear power plant, Seal Sands (RSPB) and offshore prehistoric forests, where Heiu’s monastery was established on the headland in the AD 640s before being handed over to St Hilda by Bishop Aidan in 649, target for German shells and Eston Moor_wetland_to N_2010-08Zeppelin raids in WWI. On a clear day the view extends towards Sunderland on the Wear past the post-industrial, post-Scargill-and-Thatcher, limestone coast riven deeply by streams through lush woodland and wild flowers (e.g. Castle Eden Dene, an SSSI and National Nature Reserve).

To the south, the view is dominated by Roseberry Topping and the northern escarpment of the North York Moors and buttresses of the mighty Cleveland Hills. This was a glaciated wilderness down to the River Esk some 12,000 years ago, dotted with ice-locked lakes. It’s only modern pumps that keep lake Seamer, near Stokesley, manageable today. When the pumps break, the wetland returns.

(c) Yorkshire PressThe Eston Hills are effectively a parchment narrative, a peat-covered moorland island, upon which over 10,000 years of human activity are scribed. The hills are undercut with many 19th-century ironstone mines (the last only closed in 1949), industrial heritage, and graffiti. The tops reach their highest point at Eston Nab, once a Napoleonic signal tower set within a Late Bronze Age hillfort. Collared-urn burial mounds with cup-and-ring rock art peek through the heather. Prehistoric lithics, mostly of flint, attest to activity from the Early Mesolithic (Deepcar type) around the 9th millennium BC, Late Mesolithic (narrow blade technology), Early Neolithic (pressure-flaked leaf arrows and later oblique projectile points) through to late Bronze Age (barbed and tanged arrows, and thumbnail scrapers). Iron Age and later activity migrated to the more fertile lands at lower altitude—a testament to a combination of climatic and man-made events that, ultimately, formed the moorland landscapes we know today.

Microlith_EMDC_TeesReturning to the header image, the ‘monolith’ is one of the Early Mesolithic microliths found close to where the wetland picture was taken. It’s a broad blade obliquely truncated type with leading-edge retouch. Similar microliths have been recovered from neighbouring fields (now in different museum collections). We also have similar hints on regional promontories and escarpments such as Highcliff Nab above Guisborough and Danby Beacon. These were the first post-glacial re-colonizers of our ice-ravaged landscape.

The Mesolithic deer and hunter image is, I think, from Los Caballos in southern Spain although I do seem to have misplaced the original image.


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
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  • Special Feature | 7
    Skeletons in your cupboard?
  • Activities and Events | 10
  • News Roundup | 16
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Uncover the hidden heritage of North East England

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What’s in the Pipeline? | The Mesolithic and the lithic in two major infrastructure projects

Two major infrastructure development proposals in north-east England involve onshore and offshore interventions with ongoing assessment of the archaeological impacts:

  1. York Potash Mineral Transport System | Sirius Minerals
    Whitby, Redcar & Cleveland, Teesside, North York Moors National Park
  2. Dogger Bank Wind Farms and Offshore/Onshore Cabling | Forewind consortium
    North Sea, Redcar & Cleveland, Teesside, East Yorkshire, Humberside

How will the Mesolithic fit into the archaeological and palaeo-environmental assessment protocols (desk-based and fieldwork), prospecting-sampling strategies, mitigation-preservation decisions and, if these projects happen, recovery-dissemination-curation? Geophysical prospecting and macro-sampling strategies, for example, are either developing practices for our period and the nature of its archaeological footprint, or are unlikely to be suitably granular for identifying Mesolithic/Neolithic past activity areas. So what happens when the bulldozers go in?

There are two significant development proposals in the Teesside and North/East Yorkshire areas at the consultation/investigation-assessment stages of the planning process. Both involve pipe trenches—one for the transportation of potash-in-solution from near Whitby to a processing plant on Teesside (Wilton) and the second to carry electrical cables from a proposed offshore wind farm on Dogger Bank, landing between Marske and Redcar and progressing to Lackenby (also Wilton). Both projects are required to consider risks to both the natural (ecological) and historical (archaeological and built) environment.

You might be interested to learn more and become involved in the consultations, as a local stakeholder or as an advocate for our heritage.

Major developments challenge us to get involved throughout the process and to balance the prospect of economic & social benefits—proposed and realised—with a conscience around our archaeological assets. While we care about conservation and preservation, we might also see major new discoveries. Can we help manage those through to something which adds perspective and value to an engaged and interested community?

I would only ask what that “community” looks like and why it cares.

1. The York Potash Mineral Transport System | A Sirius Minerals Project

There has already been considerable press coverage, and some accompanying controversy, about Sirius Mineral’s proposed new mine-head at Sneatonthorpe, a few kilometres south of Whitby. For example, listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme “Potash of Gold” (April 2013, audio). Unlike the rail-transported potash from the Boulby mine, Sirius propose a pipeline carrying two steel pipes up to 700mm in diameter buried at a minimum depth of 1.2m that will carry potash in solution under pressurised conditions. Having rejected rail, road and offshore pipelines, the proposed inland route, 44.5km in length, traverses the North York Moors National Park, following the A171 Whitby to Guisborough road for a significant portion, then towards Upleatham (with known Mesolithic presence) to a processing plant on the Wilton industrial complex south of the Tees.

Archaeological impact

The Summary of Proposals Document, which has been sent to communities along the route, reflects an assessment of archaeological impacts conducted by Cotswold Archaeology in 2012. The Sirius proposal document states, in the only reference to archaeology (page 7):

“A heritage assessment has been undertaken to highlight areas of potential archaeology. To date, there are no areas of significant findings that affect the mineral transport system route. Further monitoring* during construction operations is recommended.”

*by which they mean geophysical survey, watching briefs and selective excavation.
The archaeological assessment (unpublished) states “A number of undesignated assets are either crossed by the pipeline route, or have the potential to fall within the working width.” 71 out of 257 identified through HER or field survey are specifically called out, spanning the Late Neolithic-Bronze Age through to post-Medieval.

Many will be aware of the stream of unusual, often unique, sometimes nationally important discoveries in a region considered an archaeological ‘backwater’ in the not too distant past.


“The pipeline proposal falls within the remit of the National Infrastructure Directorate at the Planning Inspectorate (formerly known as the Infrastructure Planning Commission). More information can be found at: http://infrastructure.planningportal.gov.uk. York Potash is already in advanced discussions with local landowners along the route that the pipeline will take from the mine to Teesside. There will be a separate consultation period specifically on the pipeline before any planning application is submitted.” (From the York Potash Project website, see below.)

Find out more

The Summary of Proposals Document (booklet) can be requested from Sirius Minerals on the York Potash Project website. More information about the entire project can also be found there and there is an invitation to submit comments and questions, although your editor had to wait some weeks for a reply. See also the North York Moors National Park Authority press release (Jan-2013) although the mine-head and pipeline proposals are separate projects.

2. Dogger Bank Wind Farms and Offshore/Onshore Cabling | A Forewind Project

Click to visit websiteForewind is a consortium comprising four international energy companies which joined forces to bid for the Dogger Bank Zone Development Agreement as part of The Crown Estate’s third licence round for UK offshore wind farms. The proposals comprise three elements:

  • An offshore element (the wind farms) located on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, some 125 to 290km from the coast and covering 8,660 km² with a sea depth of 18 to 63m.
  • An offshore cabling element to bring power to the coast (landfall): (1) Fraisthorpe to the south of Flamborough Head; (2) Between Redcar and Marske near Teesside
  • Cable lines connecting landfall sites with the National Grid at two points: (1) Creyke Beck near Cottingham in East Yorkshire; (2) running to the industrial areas between Teesport and Lackenby (there are four ‘projects’ with two ‘connection points’).

Archaeological impact

There are extensive resources available on the Forewind website including a comprehensive Zonal Characterisation Document (ZCD) (v2 Dec-2011, 21Mb PDF) which includes a full analysis of geology, ecology, archaeology (including wrecks and aircraft) and many other aspects of the onshore and offshore catchments. It is well-structured with copious references and worth a read, irrespective of the proposals.

Dogger Bank, or Doggerland, is part of a post-glacial land-bridge between Britain and continental Europe, probably (with some evidence) intensively occupied and exploited by Mesolithic communities until the North Sea inundation around the seventh millennium BC. The ZCD is skeptical about the survival of offshore archaeological deposits (due to “scouring” during sea-level rise), but acknowledges the significant archaeological and palaeoenvironmental potential of the offshore wind farm zones.

According to the website, Archaeological field surveys and trial trenching along the proposed onshore pipeline routes will be conducted by URS (a US commercial company with UK presence) during May-June 2013.


Consultation on Dogger Bank Teesside is being carried out in two formal phases.

Phase One (May-June 2012) | During this phase, “Forewind explained the site selection work done to date, including the process to narrow down the locations of the offshore wind farms, landfalls and converter stations.  Stakeholders were invited to provide comments on the proposals while local people were specifically asked for information on issues to be considered when choosing the precise locations for onshore and offshore elements of the project.” The Preliminary Environmental Information 1 documents and other consultation materials are available to download here and hard copies are available locally from the locations listed here.

The consultation period for these documents is now closed. However, comments may be given consideration if possible. They can be submitted by Email: info@forewind.co.uk | Freephone: 0800 975 5636 | Freepost RSLY-HKGK-HEBR, Forewind, Davidson House, Forbury Square, Reading RG1 3EU

Phase Two (anticipated to be 2013) | During this phase Forewind will ask the local community for comments on the detailed proposals for Dogger Bank Teesside.

Development schedule

Q2 2012 First stage of statutory consultation
2012 – 2013 Environmental surveys and reporting
Q3 2013 Second stage of statutory consultation
Q1 2014 Submit applications for development consent order(s)
Q2 2015 Application(s) determined
2015 – 2017 Pre-construction phase
2016 – 2021 Construction
2017 onwards Operation

Recent feedback and status

Forewind very kindly responded (and gave permission to quote) this statement (April 2013):

“We are working with Wessex Archaeology Coastal and Marine to assess the impact of the Dogger Bank wind farms to offshore archaeology. This comprises the archaeological assessment of both geotechnical and geophysical data aimed at an in depth analysis of the palaeo-landscape and palaeo-environment and the potential for prehistoric archaeology, as well as the assessment of maritime and aviation archaeology. In addition Forewind is working closely with The Crown Estate to record any finds under the ORPAD protocol (Offshore Renewables Protocol for Archaeological Discoveries) as a result of our extensive survey programme.

Onshore, the baseline archaeology assessment is being undertaken by the heritage team at URS www.ursglobal.com and is currently on-going.  We have consulted English Heritage and the archaeology advisor to Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council – Phil Abramson and his colleagues at NEAR, who will no doubt be known to TAS members.  The suitability for geophysical survey was discussed and agreed with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council.  Subsequently a programme of detailed magnetometry for the onshore cable routes has been carried out, and the interpretation plots are currently being processed.  The results are very clear and several areas of enclosure and trackways have been identified which are indicative of late prehistoric and Roman settlement-related activity.  In addition, the surveys have identified anomalies relating to First World War practice trenches at the landfall.  The fieldwork is being undertaken by Archaeology Services University of Durham and all reports will eventually be uploaded to OASIS and submitted to Tees Archaeology (for their records) and to the council.

We are planning to consult on a draft version of the environmental statement for Dogger Bank Teesside, which will cover both onshore and marine archaeology, in the autumn.  We will send you details of this consultation nearer the time and would appreciate any comments or feedback that Teesside Archaeological Society and the Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire may have.

If you are interested in seeing the level of detail our assessments go into, you could take a look at the draft Environmental Statement for our Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project.  This is on our website at http://www.forewind.co.uk/downloads/dogger-bank-creyke-beck-downloads/phase-two-consultation.html and we are inviting comments from any stakeholder.  The deadline for responses is 11 June 2013.”


TEESSCAPES Teesside Archaeological Society eNews | Apr 2013

The latest edition is out—packed with news and events!

  • TEESSCAPESEditorial Review
  • April Lecture Reminder | Tue 23 Apr 7.30pm Stockton Library : Dr Jim Innes (Durham) on the palaeoenvironments and landscapes of Fylingdales Moor, North York Moors
  • Activities & Events | Lectures, activities, events, fieldwork, training and more
  • Site Notes | The latest discoveries from the Tees area and NE England, Pipeline developments and consultations
  • Action Stations | Bamburgh Research Project crowd-funding campaign, English Heritage Angel Awards, Pevsner update for County Durham
  • Browser | This month’s recommended Browsing, Listening and Reading items
  • About TAS | How to Join | eNews Archive
  • Also available as a PDF download

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

Love the rich, distinctive heritage of North East England


Summer reflections | Semaphore archaeology | Mesolithic hazelnut season

SummerMicroburin looks back at summer 2012 fieldwork and forward to autumn activities. The excavation work near Whitby didn’t happen due to the late harvest and other complications—but field-walking, disciplinarian B&B landladies, Mesolithic pollen coring with professional palynologically qualified palaeo-ecologistical botanists, and more Early Mesolithic discoveries in museum boxes—all did. Oh, and some sublime fish & chips from a man who has worked in the chippy since I was a kid in shorts. That’s an awfully long time and an awful lot of battered cod ago, and remains a top-secret location.

When summer’s end is nighing
And skies at evening cloud,
I muse on change and fortune
And all the feats I vowed
When I was young and proud.

From hill and cloud and heaven
The hues of evening died;
Night welled through lane and hollow
And hushed the countryside,
But I had youth and pride.

So here’s an end of roaming
On eves when autumn nighs:
The ear too fondly listens
For summer’s parting sighs,
And then the heart replies.

Selected verses from When summer’s end is nighing by AE Housman

Summer journal | Wettest on record | In no particular order

Themes to inspire:

  • Hand of PeatHow to get a partridge from field to oven – via the sky
  • Edicts from the Lord – of the manor
  • Archaeology by semaphore – with flags
  • Pollen in chocolate cake peat – with flint trimmings
  • Pushing Teesside’s heritage back to the eighth or ninth millennium BP – in-a-box
  • Troublesome students, mapping by sextant, very good morale – with a hint of paranoia
  • Carb calendar date – September 20th is the ripening kickoff for hazelnuts, a favourite focal for foraging Mesolithic folk

Field-walking with Total stations | Semaphore finds

HazelnutsWhile the London Olympics—and the superb Paralympics that followed—remained largely rain-free for the duration, looked upon favourably by a meandering jet stream, the rest of Blighty (Great Britain) was less fortunate. It was indeed a wet summer. Mum had the heating on int’t North and cars became submersibles on several occasions. Andy Murray’s Wimbledon tears only added to an overall sense of moisture. BrambleSo it was a very late harvest. The viability of the proposed geophys surveying and trial excavations—the third phase of the North-East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project—hung on both the harvest timetable and the impending shooting season, not for grouse here, but a veritable car-boot-sale swarm of partridges all hiding under-cover in a portion of the field especially planted with artichokes.

Be thankful you’re not a partridge

PartridgeThe point about partridges—a Microburin favourite needing a very hot oven—is that they somehow have to get from the artichokes into the sky and then down again into the hot oven. The received wisdom is that this is best achieved by hosting a party of rather wealthy people, of the blue-blooded and merchant banking kind (or Lord Mandelson), armed with shot guns, pointing in the right direction (upwards), and somebody running with flails through the artichokes—over a good six month season. Any self-respecting partridge, you would think, would have the common sense not to sit around for that long. And so there cameth an Edict from the Lord. The chap at the very big house understandably didn’t want an anorak of archaeologists (and likely tree-huggers and sock knitters) messing about in his artichokes. Nor do I think a vortex of heritage-hungry volunteers would want to be in the sights of so many double-barrels, if you’ll forgive the pun? So, birds, lordships, artichokes, rain and the late harvest all conspired.

Surveying flagsHowever, all was not entirely lost. Between combine harvesters and bales, a window of a few days allowed the tribe—from Tees Archaeology plus a baking tray of volunteers—to field-walk looking mainly for flints although a few bits of jet were found too. Despite malevolent downpours on day 2, the mission was rather successful. On top of prior geophys results, clear distribution clusters were evident with good indications for Mesolithic activity as well as Neolithic to Bronze Age.


Flag waving | Naval semaphore

Each find was placed in a ziplock bag, marked with a flag, and then surveyed in using a frighteningly expensive prismatic GPS total station—if you were married to one, you wouldn’t let him or her out on their own.

The partridges snoozed oblivious to über-quiet walky-talky coordinate gathering and a bit of flag waving. The hope is to reconvene in the spring to complete the project, corpses allowing and kind lordships permitting.

Waterlogged siteChocolate peat | Pollen nougat | Flint chippings

Dear microburins, if you recall earlier posts, the intention was to drag two doctoral experts up onto the high moors at Westerdale, to extract some pollen core columns from a Late Mesolithic site with flints seemingly situated in the peat. This is a very rare, if not unparalleled situation. Most Mesolithic flint lay at the interface between the peat and underlying sandy mineral soil and so is not associated with the peat—which began to form in the very Late Mesolithic and early Neolithic as the climate became wetter.


Mesolithic activity | Westerdale

The microscopic pollen preserved in peat acts as a proxy indicator that allows the prehistoric environment to be reconstructed and disturbance events, such as burning and clearances, whether man-made or otherwise, to be identified. With luck, pollen sequences can also be dated. Having flint artefacts in the peat starts to provide a direct correlation between human activity and the local paleo-environment.

Lion Inn

Lion Inn, Blakey | April 2012

All this was supposed to happen back in April 2012. The week before was so warm and sunny that T-shirts were the order of the day. It was truly like summer, even above 400m altitude. And then the storm. Powerlines and broadband were blown away. It snowed. And it snowed. The drifts at the infamous Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge were over ten feet deep. And the beer ran out.

Perseverance wins


Jeff (left) and Jim

As luck would have it, it has been possible to amass a column of palynologists—well two of them—a car full of shovels, tins, guttering, ranging poles, tin foil, cling film and a trowel or two. The fantastic local game-keeper arranged for gates to be opened, and off we drove around the head of Farndale on the old ironstone railway trackbed. It’s an awesome drive, dodging walkers, sheep, grouse, but not partridges.


Flint in peat!

Doctors Jim Innes from Durham and Jeff Blackford of Manchester, proved great company. Mum arranged with “certain powers” to have the torrential rain turned off at 11am on the last day of August and, after building dams and removing sticky gloop, flints-in-peat is exactly what we found. We managed to remove four pollen columns with flints embedded in each. Over the coming several months, these will be cleaned, analysed and assessed for AMS dating potential. A sample taken in 2009 about 10m further up-slope dated the base of the peat to the Late Mesolithic (Innes, pers comm).


Water in 3m² trench!

I returned to the site the a few days later to re-clean about 3 square metres of the section and explore a timber fragment protruding from the peat with some vertical birch stems sitting to the side. Over the entire day, thankfully a dry one, the area was cleaned up, planned and photographed. The vertical “stakes” proved to have nice little root systems and so, with the clay laying around, seem to have been growing in a damp hollow—one could see the tiny sections of reeds as black flecks in the clay.


Yellow markers for the flints underneath the timber.

The timber remains somewhat elusive (and is now protected and back-filled). It could be a root, a fallen trunk, but retains an odd profile and rather bulbous right (exposed) terminus, although exposure and erosion (this is a footpath) could account for this. It lay in the peat too and had a layer of flints, mostly debitage but potentially one microlith, directly beneath it. These join about 100 flints previously recovered and are in the process of being catalogued as part of the White Gill and Esklets project. So far, the microliths are only straight backed bladelets (not rods) and the debitage overall is homogenous, with several refits, suggesting little large scale movement of flints since deposition although the site is located on a gentle slope. I’m writing up* the coring and excavation exercise for HER and ADS archives and ready for the palaeo-environmental analysis results as and when those become available.


Gated Road

After this exercise, in mid-life, none of my body parts would function for a week, and I developed a very big and painful spot on my nose (named Jehovah). Back-filling is a moral duty that exacts a heavy price on the physical being. The following day, in lovely sunshine, I was met by a local farmer—sheepdog attached to the back of his trike—who shared his flints, spoke in rich “Nordic” Yorkshire dialect, and whose sheepdog, named Ben, shook paws with me. Treasured moments. We talked to several local picnicers about ancient people, long-gone forests and beasts of the woods. I don’t think anybody would want to upset a bos longifrons?

* Same format as a commercial “grey literature” watching brief / excavation record, hopefully uploaded into the OASIS project repository managed by the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) based in York. North York Moors National Park Authority pre-approved the work (core extraction and section recording) and permission was gratefully received from the Farndale Estate who provided access.

Teesside is older than you think | It is now | Mapping by sextant

Mesolithic Tees Basin

Mesolithic activity in the Tees Basin | North-East England

My earlier post in June offered the first inklings of a suspicion that Teesside—the strangest and not always comfortable blend of industry, sea-faring and natural beauty—might have the first evidence for Mesolithic occupation in the earlier phases after the melting of glaciers over 12,000 years ago. Ironically this harks back to my undergraduate dissertation on the Mesolithic in the Tees Basin, unpublished in 1987 at the University of Durham. Early Mesolithic activity is scant in north-east Yorkshire, excepting the world-renowned Star Carr and Vale of Pickering landscape. Much else undoubtedly sits, moistly, under the North Sea. There are probably under a baker’s dozen assemblages (excepting a few isolated finds of diagnostic tools–mostly microliths*), none fully documented or published, including:

  • Pointed Stone | three sites in the Taylor private collection only summarised by Roger Jacobi in his 1978 article “Northern England in the eighth millennium bc: an essay” in The Early Postglacial Settlement of Northern Europe by Mellars, P. (ed.) published by Duckworth (Star Carr type microliths)
  • Money Howe (Star Carr type microliths)
  • Scugdale area (Deepcar type microliths)
  • Danby Beacon (Deepcar type microliths)
  • Highcliff Nab, Guisborough (Deepcar type microliths, the closest to the Eston Hills)

* If you’re new to British prehistory and flint technology, I’d highly recommend Chris Butler’s Prehistoric Flintwork (Tempus 2005, affordable and widely available) is an excellent one-stop reference. The Mesolithic section is especially useful with a summary of microlith and major tool form typolologies. The rendition of Roger Jacobi’s microlith typology is covered on pages 94-6 and there’s a good summary of Early Mesolithic and Late Mesolithic chronological patterns—including the “Star Carr” and “Deepcar” types.

Roseberry Topping

Roseberry Topping | April 2012

What we can do now is add, with increasing confidence, the northern-most activity area that is immediately south of the Tees basin, on the Eston Hills c. 200m altitude that quite dramatically overlook the Tees Estuary and south Durham coast—perhaps offshore wetlands and forests in the Mesolithic, for which there is published evidence. On clear days you can see as far as the Pennines to the west, and southwards towards Highcliff and the North York Moors escarpment. Roseberry Topping would, as it does today—albeit after historical landslips that precipitated a fine Bronze Age hoard (in Sheffield Museum)—appear prominently in a Mesolithic vista even given heavy deciduous forestation at the time. I guess that’s why it appeared in a recent branded wholesome bread advert on TV last year?


CPE82 | Author’s 1982 finds

Our postulation, in summary, was that a particular assemblage recovered by your dearest Microburin writer in 1982 (site CPE82), contained an Early Mesolithic “Deepcar” type microlith of broad blade form. This is in addition to blades (and virtually no debitage—most stuff seems to show utilisation and edge wear) whose characteristics are not only different to the general Later Mesolithic assemblages but had much more in common with other early finds in north-east England and the Pennines, if not farther north —Clive Waddington’s landscape work in the Millfield basin and the Borders. Colleagues have, meantime, confirmed the microlith typology, and more is to come. Excited? Do please read on.

A lone and gentle mapper | a sensitive man with a sextant


H. Duffy’s map of Eston Hills | Site CPE82 shown as “Sandy Knoll”

A central aspect and enjoyment in any archaeological exercise is researching the activities of our immediate antecedents—the people who have walked the hills and recovered artefacts, here flints, no matter what their interest point. Much of our archaeological record and museum collections bear homage to the wanderings of curious people (by nature and outlook) within the wild landscapes they enjoyed. Historiography—recording these earlier adventures—is as interesting as making sense of what they discovered. From 18th and 19th Century antiquarians who dug barrows for treasure and sought proof of evolution by way of pejorative views on human and cultural development (small flints were made by small pygmy people), to the ladies and gentlemen who have enjoyed their hills and valleys up to the present, all of these explorers have picked up things that have seemed odd. Some recorded their find spots, some still do extremely well. Others leave vague records, but ones that can still build up a storyboard of human presence and activities over millennia. We cannot undo the foibles of our friends in the historical past, only make the best of what they have bequeathed to us.


Duffy’s Late Mesolithic flints | Compare with the CPE82 Early assemblage

Enter Mr. H. Duffy from Redcar of which nothing is known except a box of flints, a map made with a sextant, two diaries and a photograph, all in the Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum*. He seems to be an eccentric gentleman who very much preferred his own company—he notes “troublesome student types” with binoculars (one being of non-caucasian complexion), a vicar, a birdwatcher, nuisance security guards at the ICI Wilton Castle headquarters. His map was completely home-made over probably a decade from the mid-late 1970s to 1984. He also, partly endearingly and partly frustratingly, made up names. He gave street names to footpaths, called the burnt area where most flints came from “The Paddock” and invented “Stonegate Farm” which doesn’t exist as a farm—it’s two stone gateposts (stonegate) and a ploughed field (farm). But Microburin knows the place and gate posts very well. “Rosebay Heap” is where he built a small cairn as his central “datum” point. It was constantly “vandalised” by the wandering youths, poor chap.


CPE82 | Duffy’s microliths and microburin

This was also a time, remembered by Microburin himself, when some devastating fires removed huge areas of vegetation and peat. From the sandy mineral soil he picked up flint artefacts, but unfortunately didn’t plot all the find spots. Nevertheless, his collection provides evidence for prehistoric activity from the Early and Late Mesolithic to the Bronze Age. He also picked up shrapnel and bits of discarded clothing—anything out of the ordinary. He records his moods too, varying from “Felt much better after MGN [unknown: mighty good nap?] and a rest” (Tue 5 July 1983) to “Morale very low… old paranoia again” (Sat 27 Aug 1983). It also took extremely bad weather to put him off.

* I’m extremely grateful to Peter and the gang at Tees Archaeology for allowing me to look at the Duffy archive, make records and take photographs. Peter also kindly provided a scan of the Duffy map.

Early Mesolithic match


CPE82 | Compare Duffy’s flints (top) with the author’s (bottom) | Good match?

In addition to a fine array of Late Mesolithic “narrow blade” microliths—bladelet cores, blades and debitage too—a series of lovely Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowheads plus a very fine, large ripple-flaked oblique arrow, an extremely beautiful and large Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged arrowhead, and wide selection of scrapers, retouched tools and the like (perhaps for a later post)—one particular group of flints stand out. Whilst he didn’t record the exact location, there’s another broad-blade microlith (or two), this time a slightly irregular rhomboidal obliquely truncated blade, with backing retouch on both margins. Again, it has close parallels in Deepcar type* assemblages. This is accompanied by blades and flakes, many with utilisation wear, and microburins virtually identical to my CPE82 assemblage. The raw material, largely white “Wolds” flint and some patinated Drift flint, is all identical to CPE82.

* A quick scan of the literature shows similar examples at Warcock Hill North (Pennines), Oakhanger VII and Wawcott III amongst others.

Mr H Duffy

Mr H Duffy | Nothing else is known about him

As the evidence grows, I don’t think the Early Mesolithic folks were here at Carr Pond very long, at least in this place. It doesn’t so far seem to be a “persistent place” as we have in the high uplands, and as we may have in the Later Mesolithic on Eston Hills and Upleatham. It does not seem to be a spot of primary flint knapping either. There’s little debitage, a majority of used blades and flakes. But there’s enough evidence by way of three or four microburins that they’re perhaps repairing toolkits using blank blades or prepared-and-tested pebbles—you don’t want to be carrying around heavy cobbles of dubious quality, not through forests and scrub.

More to come? | Don Spratt Collection

Don Spratt

Donald Spratt | Original from the Northern Echo

Don Spratt (1922-1992) was an enthusiastic “amateur” archaeologist who spent his retirement years working in Cleveland and the North York Moors with the likes of Raymond Hayes. His most visible achievement, the Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire, remains a central resource for anybody studying the north-east of England. With friends he recovered and published the Upleatham Mesolithic assemblages and his excavations over many years at Roxby Iron Age settlement, published in PPS, won a major award. A good deal of his Cleveland finds are in the Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough and include artefacts recovered by field-walking on the Eston Hills.

Microburin is heading to the museum next week to follow-up on previous observations that some broken broad blade microliths are present in his collection. The ploughed fields at Barnaby are very close to CPE82. It’s going to be very interesting to see if this adds to the unfolding story of early post-glacial Teesside.

Summer epilogue | “Love” on the beach | Flamborough Head flint


Flamborough Head | Beach messages

The final ritual act of this summer was a visit to Flamborough Head, East Riding of Yorkshire, to scramble around the coves, cliffs and boulder clay in search of reference sample flint pebbles. There’s no problem finding them in the same way there were no problems for our Mesolithic friends. What Microburin found is identical to much of the material from the high moors, but missing some of the brighter coloured material—the reds, oranges, deep browns, pinks and finer translucent flints thought to occur more on the Durham coast. The layer of opaque cream-white flint in the chalk is very similar to the CPE82 assemblage. Interestingly, only very small pieces of stained flint occurred in the glacial till, and some of the larger cobbles that would be considered drift flint look like they’re in a primary deposit or derived from offshore chalk beds in the immediate vicinity. I’m sure there’ll be more on raw material sources in 2013.


Let me leave you with a final picture of more later prehistoric artefacts in the Duffy collection.


Leading edge retouch | could this be Early Mesolithic on Teesside?


The flint bits are white, a very pale hue. Is this the sign of an earlier crew?

They’re bigger indeed, if I may be so bold. Is this the sign of something more old?

Dear microburins, I promise work is proceeding on cataloguing the Late Mesolithic assemblages from White Gill, Westerdale and Glaisdale | see the previous post on “laying it all out“. It’s a slow process and some recent advice from a distinguished Pennine lithic guru—there are such things—means I need to do a little bit of back-tracking to add detail to some of the typological work.

birch | bikers | woodpeckers

FootpathHowever, in a moment of nostalgia, I remembered a small, modest assemblage I found back in 1982 (while still at college) from a sandy rise next to some beautiful wetland ponds hidden amongst regenerating birch woodland, reeds and heather. It’s also great for woodpecker spotting when the off-road bikers allow some peace. It’s an odd spot. I find this place reminiscent of what the forested uplands might have looked like in the Mesolithic, and today deer roam amongst the trees and clearings—I’m the only wild boar. It’s all the more remarkable for being a nat’s whisker (a very short distance) from the outer edges of industrial Teesside—where the sky never grows dark: oil, gas and petro-chemical services vie for survival in an economically challenged region that never really recovered from the Thatcher years (1980s). How different (or not) from the 1880s when iron was forged and steel smelted. Sydney’s Harbour Bridge was made here, the place where the first commercial public steam railway ran from Stockton to Darlington.

spotting the early mesolithic | north-east England

For whatever reasons, and there are many potential ones, the distribution of Early Mesolithic activity—whether assemblages or chance finds—in north-east England is not an onerous one on the eye. They are modest in number, away from the hubbub of Star Carr, Flixton and Seamer in the Vale of Pickering near Scarborough. There are a few noteworthy sites from the high moors, like Pointed Stone (Jacoby, in the Taylor collection but unpublished) and Money Howe (unpublished). Hints of earlier activity at Highcliff Nab, Guisborough (published) and some other “prominent” places in the landscape. These sites are characterised by “broad blade” microliths and obliquely blunted/truncated points.

Compared to the veritable explosion of activity in the later Mesolithic—many hundreds of find spots—the earlier “period” is a rather spaced-out and ephemeral affair. The Late Mesolithic is itself typified by an increasingly diminutive “geometric” microlith toolkit. This included micro-scalene triangles, micro-backed bladelets, micro-tranchets and rods—some so incredibly small (hence “micro”) that you wonder if the folks were on high-strength herbal tea most of the time. Or something stronger. It all goes a bit strange compared to our bretheren in Nordics, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium—perhaps as it remains to this very day?

TeesNow, part of the distribution bias will inevitably relate to taphonomic, survival, visibility and collecting factors. However, some folks comment upon how much attention Star Carr and Lake Flixton have received over the years as (dis)proportionate to the amount of attention given to the greater catchments, including the space between the lowlands and high moors—transit routes. My view is that we haven’t been looking systematically enough so far, but I also suspect that we wouldn’t change the maps radically, moreso because so much landscape sits under the sea, certainly south of Scarborough, or under millennia of alluvium and hillwash, or Teesside’s thick paleolake clays and steaming industry.

teased on the Tees | it’s white | it’s big

Assemblage sample

What do you think?

Back, dear friends, to this little assemblage from a sandy mound in a quiet place. It would be great to have your opinions too—I’m going to let you look at my artefacts. Steady as she goes. Here are the things that seem to make this a bit odd and stand out from the other Mesolithic activity in the area:

  • The flint is more than 60% white, thought to originate from primary and secondary sources on and immediately around the East Yorkshire Wolds (south of Scarborough and Vale of Pickering) and the Lincolnshire Wolds (south of the Humber). Most assemblages from the north-east comprise of drift flint—battered beach pebbles (not beer battered as in fish & chips) and rolled rubble from river gravels. White flint is usually a small proportion of the North York Moors material. White flint on its own is not an indicator of Early Mesolithic by any means, but it is very unusual for the Tees area, and one of several suggestive indicators.
  • The microlith and microburin, indeed the blades and flakes overall, are somewhat larger than what you normally find. Later microliths (and bladelets) are tiny affairs of only 3-5mm width, with occasional exceptions. This one is 11mm wide.
  • The microlith has a distinctive “non-standard” shape with steep retouch along the entire upper left edge and, importantly, similar retouch at the top of the leading (opposite) edge. It almost looks “shouldered” or tanged. And it’s white flint, not burnt. What I’m saying is it’s non-standard from a Late Mesolithic perspective. When compared with the individual and “large” straight-backed bladelets (only one edge), one each from White Gill, Esklets and Glaisdale, it is still broader by a few millimetres and significantly different in overall morphology.
  • You might also notice the cheeky chunk of chert? There are two chert pieces in an assemblage of 48 pieces. Chert is extremely rare (exotic) in NE Yorkshire. Given that the uplands were not glaciated in the Late Devensian, a glacial till origin is less likely perhaps than some kind of human transience between the Pennines and North York Moors. Banded chert sources include Critch Hill in South Pennines Peak District (Derbyshire), Nidderdale in North Pennines (Yorkshire Dales), and is also noted in upper Weardale assemblages in County Durham with suggestion of a local source. The point is that all these places are many kilometers away. Even the Wolds are 30-40 km to the south.
  • The site location is at a lower elevation than the high moor sites that are generally above 320m OD. Our sandy hummock is about the same elevation and not a disimilar topographic position as Deepcar (see more later)—coincidentally of course, but also occupies a locale not disimilar to those noted for Early Mesolithic presence in the Millfield Basin (Passmore & Waddington), with a preference for ponds, wetland catchments and escarpments. Carr Pond is close to a prominent escarpment overlooking the Tees estuary, similar to Highcliff Nab, and towards Hartlepool on the south Durham coast with its evidence for peat and forest beds in the intertidal zone—and dated evidence for later Mesolithic activity off today’s shoreline. There is a tendency for early Mesolithic “sites” to be in very prominent positions in the landscape, where distinctive topographic features are termed “handrails”—easier to find and remember as the forests took hold.

Star Carr | Deepcar | Carr Pond

MossNorthern England is host to two broadly (if you’ll forgive the pun?) distinctive Early Mesolithic typologies, with an underlying emphasis on white flint. The two traditions, or technological preferences, are largely similar but with diverging patterns. Their labels come from the two principal type sites of Star Carr (first excavated in the 1940s) and Deepcar in south Yorkshire (excavated in 1962). Both are “broad blade” technologies. However:

  • Star Carr has a microlithic toolkit dominated by obliquely truncated, isosceles triangles and trapezoidal forms with retouch on one edge, not the leading edge.
  • Deepcar also has obliquely truncated forms but with two general differences: there’s retouch also on the leading edges towards the tip and the microliths are generally more slender and longer, with fewer triangles and trapezes.
  • Chronologically, and still challenged by a lack of fine resolution radiocarbon dating, it looks like Star Carr assemblages are earlier, with some overlap. So where could the Tees flints fit in? Could they be from this early “pre-Boreal” Mesolithic phase, something intermediary, or is this purely a flight of fancy?

PPS 30 1964Checking the literature, I’ve been looking for possible affinities, and what better than to go back to the original excavation reports. Assuming that our microlith is not a broken straight-backed bladelet, there are parallels in both Star Carr and Deepcar assemblages:

  • Slender obliquely blunted points with leading edge partial retouch at Deepcar, Yorkshire | Radley, J. & Mellars, P. (1964) A Mesolithic Structure at Deepcar, Yorkshire, England, and the Affinities of its associated Flint Industries, PPS 30, 1-24. Fig 5 No 47 (tanged), also 48-50. 95% of assemblage was white flint with small proportion of black shiny chert and brown flint. Similar types from Central Pennines at Lominot (Fig 8 No 18) and Warcock Hill North (No 19).

    Deepcar Fig 5

    Deepcar microliths

  • Star Carr 1954Slender obliquely blunted points, but without leading edge retouch, from Star Carr, North Yorkshire | Clark, J.G.D. (1954) Excavations at Star Carr, an Early Mesolithic Site at Seamer Near Scarborough, Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press. Fig 35 No 30 (scalene triangle, noting the tapering distal “tail”) and the “irregular” No 27.
Star Carr microliths Fig 35

Star Carr microliths

what do I think?

To be honest, the Deepcar similarities, and dimensions, are closest, and closer than a Late Mesolithic typology. My submission is that this is a Jacobi Type 1b microlith | Early Mesolithic Deepcar Obliquely Truncated Point (the backing has modified the shape of the original blank). It’s missing 1mm from proximal tip, 3-8mm or more from distal “tail”. Original max length could have been 35-40mm. Compare with the largest Late Mesolithic straight-backed bladelets (SBB), e.g. Esklets, where the retouch is gently oblique to form a sharp point: L 32mm, W 7.5mm, D 2mm. The normal SBBs with a bit of leading edge retouch don’t normally form a “point” at one end, and typical dimensions would be L 20mm, W 2.5mm, D 1.5mm. Leading edge partial retouch on SBBs is not very common.

am I early | am I late | what do you think?


PS | if you’re new to the Mesolithic, or British prehistory, here’s some good 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.
  • 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!