Mesolithic Videos | Cramond, Edinburgh in the Mesolithic: 5min video

Cramond◊ Cramond in the Mesolithic era | Open Virtual Worlds in association with the Cramond Association and Cramond Heritage Trust | 11-Apr-2016 (Oct-2015 Vimeo) 5min

Val Dean talks about Cramond (near Edinburgh) in the Mesolithic era (c.10,000 – 4500 BC), exploring what life was like for the population at this time; what people ate, how they lived, the tools they used and what traces remain for archaeologists to explore.

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Walkover Survey of Mesolithic Archaeology at Risk in North Yorkshire | Damned Flint Collectors

Since at least 2000, I’ve been monitoring the state of upland areas where Mesolithic lithic scatters are located (e.g. Carter 2016). We also have Mesolithic–Neolithic archaeology in the lowland zone too, generally revealed on agricultural land (fieldwalking). In addition to updating Historic Environment Records (HER) as an ongoing exercise, I note and photograph various factors such as increasing or decreasing erosion, and land management practices which can jeopardise the archaeology or, indeed, help protect it if undertaken sympathetically. Our moorland peat landscapes are also critical as carbon-capture environments.

Shooting butts and trackways | Scale: 0.2m units.

Damaging regimes include drainage ditch and track construction, shooting butt construction (with wide ‘scrapes’ and disturbance), annual heather burning in sensitive locations and, conversely, revegetation and peat re-wetting (e.g. Brightman 2014). Peat deflation—shrinkage—since the 1980s has been marked, severe in places, leaving only a shallow covering above the fragile archaeological horizons. It’s a fine balance between the needs of the landowners and farmers in a working landscape, and a desire to record and preserve our shared heritage.

Mesolithic flints in a cut drainage channel | Scale: 0.2m units.

Mesolithic flints in a cut drainage channel | Scale: 0.2m units.

Drainage channel for a shooting butt cuts through archaeological horizons: peat overlying a leached palaeosol with lithics at the interface (podsol profile). Palaeo-environmental research (e.g. Albert & Innes 2015) has provided radiocarbon date ranges for the landscape and vegetational changes happening since the last ice age (Holocene period) | Scale: 0.2m units.

Drainage channel for a shooting butt cuts through archaeological horizons: peat overlying a leached palaeosol with lithics at the interface (podsol profile). Palaeo-environmental research (e.g. Albert & Innes 2015) has provided radiocarbon age ranges for the landscape and vegetational changes, as well as likely human interference, happening since the last ice age (Holocene period) | Scale: 0.2m units.

Flint collectors and damage to the record

This flint collector (we know who he is) leaves small piles of debitage, bottom centre, after removing the ‘pretty’ artefacts (from Brightman 2014 with the author).

Sadly, evidence persists for unrecorded selective removal of flints (‘cherry-picking’ the best) which then prevents any accurate characterisation of the various sites — removing ‘pretty’ diagnostic artefacts. In reality, the entire landscape appears to have been a Mesolithic persistent place, repeatedly visited by hunter-gatherers over a period of five thousand years (c. 9000–3800 BC).

Thankfully there are just enough fragments, and debitage, to offer some insights. We know who one of the culprits is, with a large private collection, but he has since broken off contact with archaeologists. However, the estate field managers and farmers are on the look-out, and assertively discourage such behaviour.

Analysis of the lithics, GPS-plotted, is ongoing as part of my own research. Ultimately, the lithics and full records will be deposited with a local archive-accepting museum (an increasingly rare thing these days) and summarised in a regional publication or periodical. For background information, see Tees Archaeology 2006–12 (References, below).

Acknowledgements

As always, the landowners and field managers have been generous with access permission. The catch-up conversations in the wilderness are also a delight.

References

Albert, A. & Innes, J. 2015. Multi-profile fine-resolution palynological and micro-charcoal analyses at Esklets, North York Moors, UK, with special reference to the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. Vegetational History and Archaeobotany 24(3): 357–375.

Brightman, J. 2014. Peat Restoration Historic Environment Survey and Palaeoenvironmental Assessment: Westerdale Common (Final Report). Unpublished report by Solstice Heritage for Yorkshire Peat Partnership and North York Moors National Park Authority.

Carter, S.D. 2016. Monitoring of Mesolithic Lithic Sites at Esklets, Westerdale, North York Moors, England: Field observations made in August 2015 with interim archaeological summaries | http://tinyurl.com/z6ae7w6 [Last accessed 07-Apr-2016].

Tees Archaeology 2006–12. North-East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project | http://www.teesarchaeology.com/projects/Mesolithic/Mesolithic.html [Last accessed 07-Apr-2016].

Mesolithic North East Yorkshire | Free Tees Archaeology Report

◊ Dear Microburins,

Meso_NEYorks_TeesArch2Tees Archaeology and Historic England have just published a summary report about the North-East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project that completed recently. The report is aimed at a general readership and accompanies an illustrated e-booklet aimed at kids, as well as a guide to prehistoric lithics (flint).

Although Teesside is perceived as a recent industrial landscape, the natural history and archaeology is all around. We have definite evidence for the early post-glacial pioneer colonisers, reindeer hunters, around 8500 BC—the Early Mesolithic—as well as evidence for the filling out of the landscape in the later Mesolithic into the advent of Neolithic farming communities and monument builders. This is a long six-thousand year epoch and one of rapid climate change, warm-and-cold events, rising sea levels, a tsunami, and the creation of today’s Island Britain.

Microlith_EMDC_TeesEarly Mesolithic flint projectile point, Deepcar type, c. 8500 BC (a little later than Star Carr) from Eston Hills, Teesside. White flint has sources in East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, many tens of kilometres away. These rare but characteristic tools are found along river valleys.

TVA_LateMesLate Mesolithic flints from the North York Moors, c. 8000-4000 BC. Left are geometric narrow-blade microliths, usually used as projectile arrow barbs but also for other tasks; Top right are microliths and utilised flint blades; Bottom right is a core from which blades have been removed for working into tools. Coloured and speckled flint comes from beach and glacial till deposits on the NE coast and can still be picked up today. Some has been dragged over from Denmark and chalk beds now under the North Sea.

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You’ll have seen the news? | Star Carr engraved pendant

Dear Microburins,

SC_PendantPress-released on 26 February by the University of York, you’ll likely have seen the news about the Star Carr Mesolithic engraved shale pendant. The usual mix of media headlines—from secret codes to shamanism—perhaps mask the incredible scientific analyses which are presented in the open-access Internet Archaeology academic article, including the archaeological context, a suite of images (with 3D), analysis techniques, and an assessment of comparable engravings from UK and European finds.

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Image: Dr Harry Robson, Department of Archaeology, University of York.

Stones Tell Stories | James Dilley knaps replica teaching assemblages

◊ Dear Microburins,

The extraordinary James Dilley @ancientcraftUK is working through multi-period replica assemblages for my lithics training workshops this year, and beyond. The workshops deal with the archaeological aspects of lithic assemblages—chronological trends, research questions, technology, typology, identification, function, field archaeology best practices, analysis, recording and interpretation. The teaching materials also include other material culture associations, such as ceramics courtesy of Graham Taylor @pottedhistory and Bronze Age artefacts by Neil Burridge.

Dilley_Teaching

 

Grim_candidate JD2 Grimston_neolithic-pottery SC-Mic
Selecting the correct pottery and lithic types to illustrate typological and material culture changes through prehistory. The pottery here is early Neolithic Grimston Ware from Yorkshire (c. 3800-3500 BC) and Early Mesolithic microlith flints from Star Carr (c. 8770-8460 BC).

What’s particularly useful in the expert knapping that James is undertaking is that each of the four period-based assemblages will be near complete, or at least a representative sample of coherent reduction sequences and artefact manufacture. James is also going to intentionally break some pieces.

The Reality of Bias

In reality, in the field:

  • Recovered lithics often represent multi-period mixtures where places have been visited and revisited over time (persistent places);
  • There is variation in past human activity in space and time, from the selection and testing/rejection of raw materials, stages of reduction and tool manufacture, selective or even random events in the movement, breakage, discard, use and re-use, caching of raw materials and artefacts—we call this the chaîne opératoire;
  • There are biases in survival, including disturbed contexts, where lithics are residual (not in original context) because of later activity or natural events, including agriculture and movement in sediments;
  • There are biases in archaeological recovery, whether intentional sampling or uncontrollable factors related to the nature of the recovery techniques employed—and of course in the ability to identify a lithic and human interpretation, always subjective to a degree, of assemblages.

artisans at large

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Mesolithic Footsteps | Upper Dee Tributaries Project video

Dee◊ Dear Microburins,

A new video on Vimeo released this month about the project in Scotland. Thanks to Caroline Wickham-Jones for sharing.

“Get behind the scenes with archaeologists and scientists as they explore 10,000 years of human history on the Mar Lodge Estate – uncover the links between tiny flint tools, climate change and pit-roast venison.”

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