Living Mesolithic Project | Evocative images of life in 5000 BC

◊ Living Mesolithic Project | Frank Wiersema Photography with Chris Pallasch at Stone Age Park Dithmarschen in Albersdorf | 2015 Facebook (Images & video) Experimental archaeology

Mesolithic_FrankWiersema1In the summers of 2015-16 the Stone Age Park Dithmarschen in Albersdorf (Germany) organized a Stone Age Living Project in the area of the newly built 2014 “Mesolithic Settlement” site, in the form of both an educational programme and as an experiment. The activities and outputs (used tools and established structures) were scientifically documented by archaeologists from the Archaeological Department of the University of Exeter, England, as partner of the OpenArch-project. The scientific results will be published by Exeter, the detailed documentation will be published by the Stone Age Park in form of a magazine and a brochure.

Mesolithic_FrankWiersema2The aim of the project was to reconstruct the everyday life of hunter-gatherers of Mesolithic Northern Europe around 5000 BC by doing an authentic as possible life experiment with skilled re-enactors and experimental archaeologists, in order to gain a new type of insight of how life might have been at that time.

Images © Frank Wiersema


Mesolithic Deeside, Aberdeenshire | 30-Sep – 01-Oct 2016

◊ Dear Microburins

2016_DeessideI’m hoping to attend this event — hopefully see some of you there? More info »

Horsemill, Crathes Castle AB31 5QJ | 30 September – 01 October 2016

  • 30 September 7pm Caroline Wickham-Jones – talk: Mesolithic Deeside
  • Saturday 1 October 11am Shannon Fraser – talk: Crathes Castle Mesolithic pit alignment
    1pm and 3pm Heather Sabnis – talk: Discovering Mesolithic Crathes
  • All day – Flint sessions – handle flints from the Mesolithic Deeside sites and talk to archaeologists, plus events for children
    Outdoor events by Brian Wilkinson 10am-4pm

Useful links


BOOZE IN THE BARN | Digging up Time in the Dales

LOD16_Kids01DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY 2016 | Hunters, Farmers, Cistercian Habits, Mullions, Methodists, Water and a Loo in the Woods

My DoA post this year is, perhaps, closer to the traditional perceptions of what archaeologists do, and comes the week after completing fieldwork in the beautiful Nidderdale in North Yorkshire, England — an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and over 10,000 years of human presence. Our 2016 project is funded by the Heritage Lottery and seeks to understand the history (and prehistory) of The Lost Village of Lodge on the Scar House Reservoir which still, today, supplies drinking water to the city of Bradford — by gravitational pipe! To give a flavour of the varied activities over two weeks of digging, I hope readers will allow me to compress into a single ‘virtual’ day of archaeology.

Day of Archaeology 2016 »

How do you lose a village?

Lodge-May-2013-1040x300Lodge is a small ruined hamlet of four or five farmstead structures and a Methodist chapel. What’s important archaeologically is that it was abandoned in the late 1920s on completion of the neighbouring dams and reservoirs in upper Nidderdale — in order to assure clean water in the catchment area. That means nothing has been touched since abandonment, except for the gradual collapse of the latest structures, but that we also have extensive documentary records for the 19th and earliest 20th centuries. Indeed, one of our volunteer diggers had a direct family connection with the last residents! We can trace some of the inhabitants back to the 17th century when the settlement comprised traditional Yorkshire longhouses with domestic accommodation at one end and a byre or barn at the other, a yard, ancillary buildings and a garden area. There’s also a root store, recently restored, next to a stream.

Watch a short introductory video to the project by Paul Harris (1m 27) »

Clearing the building and garden area beyond

Clearing the building and garden area beyond.

Farther back in time, the settlement is recorded on Saxton’s map of 1577 as ‘Lodge howses’, for which we found re-used architectural fragments such as stone window mullions. We also know that the Cistercian abbey at Byland, like many others, had a grange (farm) here before the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Might we find evidence for monks? Lastly, we know that people have been here since the Mesolithic period, say around 8500–3800 BC, with extensive scatters of flint and chert artefacts recorded above Lodge and around the dale. Two flint artefacts recovered in previous surveys — and flint is not geologically native to this landscape and so must have been brought here by hunter-gatherers — probably relate to this period.



Everything from the garden trench was sieved to recover the tiniest of finds such as buttons, a faceted glass bead and shotgun cartridges.

We chose one of the slightly easier structures, effectively a huge pile of rubble with a tantalising likely 17th-century window in the north wall remnant, and an area of the attached garden plot where artefacts lay immediately below the turf and through about 0.4m of wonderful garden soil. Fragments of the iron oven lay scattered amongst the rubble although a large proportion of the cooking range was subsequently recorded in situ. We did manage to uncover one of the domestic rooms — the kitchen and entrance passageway — and a cobbled-and-flagged byre with a scythe sticking out of the section.

More about Lodge and earlier surveys »

Community involvement | BIG DIG 2016!

Trainee students recording a test pit.

Our excavation was Heritage Lottery funded and orchestrated by the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership, with Solstice Heritage providing the archaeological oversight. We benefitted from between six and 18 volunteers on any one day — including turf removal, tens of tonnes of rubble clearance and, ultimately, backfilling the garden trench. There were experienced people who had been involved in previous fieldwork, as well as folk with no experience at all, plus two trainee undergraduate and two postgraduate students in archaeology from Bradford University, and a sixth-form student intern. All had to endure a 2.5km walk each way every day!

Mattocking in the garden trench.

Who wants to be an archaeologist?!

LOD16_LB_01In addition to an extremely successful open day in balmy summer heat with more than 40 attendees, we hosted a party of local home-educated children for some proper excavation (header image). After only a few minutes of demonstration they set to work, sharing trowelling and sieving. Their eye for detail was astounding! Almost immediately there were finds of beads, buttons, clay pipes, pottery, glass and iron. When asked “who wants to be an archaeologist?” the reply was a resounding “YES — when can we come back?”

Fragment of a clay pipe bowl with skull and cross-bones motif, popular in the late 19th and early 20th century and associated with the 17th Lancers, a cavalry regiment of the British Army notable for their participation in the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War.

Strangers in the Dale

Andy Downing and Bill Spencer in the Crown at Middlesmoor

Andy Downey of Lofthouse and Bill Spencer of Ramsgill in the Crown at Middlesmoor. Bill holds the pocket watch – “digging up time” – from the first day in the garden trench.

As word of our ventures rapidly passed down the dale it also became evident that the broader community were fascinated by what we were doing and what we might find. It was therefore a pleasure to offer a finds show and tell at the Crown Hotel, Middlesmoor with over 25 local residents and tourists quizzing us about the intriguing array of artefacts spanning at least 7000 years of activity. The pocket watch, with its loop, was the centre of attention, not least for providing a tangible connection to somebody who we can likely name.

Did we find our Monks?

Most of our finds were late Victorian and early 20th-century in date: domestic and fineware pottery along with the ubiquitous earthenware; window and vessel glass; ironwork including nails, bolts, horse/mule shoes — and one decorative example that was probably displayed above the cooking range; clay pipes and a great deal more.LOD16_LB-05

What’s interesting is that, mindful of our latterly conservative Methodist residents, there was a relative paucity of items related to bad habits, such as smoking (few clay pipes) and drinking — a very few beer-type bottle fragments and one sherd of what might be a fine sherry or wine glass. And yet, if one is permitted a moment of conjecture, we did seem to have a cluster of booze bottle fragments in the byre. Was somebody sneaking out on a bleak Sunday evening for an illicit tipple?


In fact, we have a reasonably complete sequence of pottery types heading back to the 17th and 16th centuries — and probably glassware too including hand-blown examples. Most exciting are two sherds, one a pitcher handle fragment, where the uneven firing, bubbled surface glazing and abrasion suggest an even earlier Medieval date.

Yes, we think we have our monks in a ziplock bag!

Thank you so much for reading. There’ll be plenty of volunteer opportunities ahead in Nidderdale for finds processing and, without doubt, further field projects next year.

Postscript Loo

PS, it was archaeology director Jim Brightman who bravely transported the site ‘loo’ by 4×4 to Pateley Bridge for processing.

Spencer Carter | Field Archaeologist, Trainer and Lithics Specialist

Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership | Louise Brown
Solstice Heritage | Jim Brightman

UK Mesolithic Sites and Finds | Footprints at Formby Lancashire



Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership

Formby, Sefton, Lancashire | Intertidal peat beds with 58 human footprints and over 2,000 Red Deer prints in a 90m long bed, with trails of Aurochs, Crane and Wild Boar being recorded by Manchester University | Images on Facebook post | Daily Mirror 19-Jun-2016



New Mesolithic Video | Imagined realities by Don Henson

New Mesolithic video by Don Henson, University of York, presented at TAG Bradford in December 2015

Henson_TAG2015Imagined realities in the portrayal and investigation of the British Mesolithic | Don Henson at TAG Braford Dec-2015 | 15-May-2016 Youtube (20min) Academic

“Fiction can be a powerful way of imagining the past. Examining how the Mesolithic has been communicated is part of my PhD research into public perceptions of the Mesolithic. The starting point for this paper is the words of novelist Margaret Elphinstone: ‘In the blank spaces between the words of archaeological narrative lie the buried kernels of all the forgotten stories‘. This paper will explore the dissonance between academic portrayals of the Mesolithic and portrayals of the period in fictional novels and short stories. I will look at the range of narrative elements presented: characters in settings carrying out actions which may be affected by external happenings.

Whereas archaeology of the Mesolithic is good at conveying settings and happenings, I will argue that it is to fiction that we must turn for an exploration of characters and actions. This in turn should deliver a better appreciation of what we should be seeking to recover through our research. We need to move beyond seeing Mesolithic people as hunter-gatherers and towards a more rounded view of them as people, and to think how we might recover aspects of life higher up Hawkes’s ladder of inference than the purely technological and economic.”


Teaching Mesolithic | Resources for Schools

StarCarrRecon◊ Dear Microburins,

Archaeologist Don Henson at the University of York has been developing a suite of resources for teachers about Star Carr and the Mesolithic period. Here’s Don’s summary of what’s available to use—and he’s seeking feedback on the materials too.

The classroom activities have been grouped into three sets of units. Individual units can be taken from any set and taught as stand-alone activities. We are looking for teachers who would like to test these resources in the classroom and let us know what they think of them. Please contact

Set 1 | A skills log to develop basic archaeological skills in the classroom: finding out information, identifying things, recording objects, analysing how people lived and telling others about Star Carr.

Set 2 | A set of short stories, “11,000 Years Ago”, about the daily lives of a Mesolithic family: moving home, making things, food, friends and strangers, a hint of winter, coming of age, a new life, the bad old days, boy or girl – animals or plants?

Set 3 | Lessons from the Middle Stone Age, showing how the Mesolithic can teach useful lessons to help us both live better lives today and understand the world we live in: the origins of ourselves, change is inevitable, the living environment, human diversity, healthy eating, what makes us happy.