Mesolithic Salvage | What the flint collector left behind

◊ Dear Microburins,


Update | I have added a Reporting Finds page to this blogsite. The guidance has been adopted by the Prehistoric Society on their Facebook page as a new rule of engagement.


After last week’s post about a walkover survey of a Mesolithic landscape in Yorkshire, something I do annually with permissions—and about the persisting evidence of unrecorded flint collecting¹—I’m glad to say that just enough has been left behind since 2013-14² to be able to tell some kind of story. Stones tell stories—but context is key!

The image here is rather rough-and-ready but shows, after gentle cleaning, 62 flints from the different disturbance locations, ahead of detailed analysis, cataloguing, HER submission, and archiving in a local museum. Very detailed grid references (GPS) have also been recorded. This is clearly a very small collection, but sits within a much larger archive, in the context of recent recording and volunteer regimes as part of a Historic England project, and the ongoing random activities of some participant(s) for their own various motives or habits.

Highlights

Some highlights amongst the sixty-two include:

  • Four very small cores which have been reduced with difficulty due to flaws (blue);
  • At least two microliths: a tiny and damaged microscalene triangle top R, and a possible krukowski (broken) backed bladelet, bottom L (red);
  • A burin/scraper (rare) top L, and a retouched bladelet top C (red);
  • A few other pieces show possible use-wear;
  • Burnt debitage indicating likely hearths.

However, we don’t know what the collector(s) have removed, including any possible Early Mesolithic artefacts—which are extremely uncommon in this area and are usually broad-blade microliths (projectiles)—or indeed early Neolithic artefacts such as leaf-shaped arrowheads, attractive to collectors. We’re in an area where the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition (the overlap) hints at being potentially later than other northern locations.

Glaisdale_EMThe image above was found on the Internet some years ago, posted under a pseudonym, and shows a collector’s Early Mesolithic microliths from Glaisdale. There were also images of microscalene triangles and backed bladelet forms. The area was frequently visited by collectors throughout the 20th century until recent work by Natural England to re-vegetate and re-wet an extensively eroded moorland area.

Risks

The saddest news is that many 20th century collections, and very extensive collections amounting to tens-of-thousands of finds (if not more), ultimately ended up in land fills after the collectors’ deaths. Some ended up in museums, but mixed-up and not well documented, often the result ‘of a weekend walk’ over many years. There are a number of extensive private collections today, some known, many suspected, that may end up with a similar destiny—I know of at least four, filling garage-sized spaces that would take a generation to process. Even with recent developments in best-practice recording advice (PAS, HER, MoRPHE, CIfA and otherwise) by virtue of standards frameworks, an incredible amount of data—research data—remains out of reach, off-record and hence at risk.

The Narrative So Far

  • This is a Mesolithic landscape, or ‘taskscape’, a palimpsest, a persistent place returned to repeatedly for thousands of years.
  • The lithic technology and a few diagnostic tools confirm a Late Mesolithic ‘narrow-blade’ date with activity extending a considerable distance, over 150m or more, across the moorland—dense deciduous woodland with clearances in the later Mesolithic climatic optimum—below a spring line, and farther downslope than previously recorded.TVA_LateMes
  • My own recent radiocarbon age determinations (thirteen in all, from well-defined features) suggest discreet hearth-based knapping and tool manufacture/repair can span considerable date ranges even within a few metres of each other. The calibrated dates from a rescue excavation show activity around 5300-4800 cal BC (with possible re-use of a stone-ringed hearth together with a possible structure and ‘flat stone’ features) and perhaps even 3800-3770 cal BC (at least a discreet corylus burning event), and c.4300 cal BC elsewhere—these will all be published in due course. Our understanding of the palaeo-environmental prehistory of this area is much better researched and documented than the archaeology: see References in the previous post.
  • There are also some suggestions, overall, for varying raw material procurement sources (over considerable distances), reduction stages and activities at different times and locations, although previous removals on a vast scale into the tens of thousands, when the area was much more eroded, will have compromised at least some of the surviving archaeological record.
  • When legacy references and HER records talk to ‘an assemblage composed only of debitage’, one must wonder if that is true or a function of selective flint collecting along with other taphonomic (post-depositional) processes. Our record will always be a sample of a sample of a sample.

I’ll post more, with images, when the analysis and cataloguing is complete.

Spence


¹ Evidence comprises regular sightings by the gamekeepers and farmers of at least one collector, the same gentleman each time (he used to quote my name as a legitimiser), known to leave small piles of debitage (taking the tools) and characteristic footprint patterns in all the eroding or disturbed areas where lithics are revealed. Some of his finds have been summarily recorded in the past but lack specific provenances in many cases.
² When the shooting butts and tracks were constructed.

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].

Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire | Journal in press

◊ Dear Microburins, CBAY_FORUM_vol3_cvr

I am delighted—and not a little relieved—to say that the third FORUM Yorkshire archaeological journal is now in press, the last under my editorship as I stand down from the Committee as Hon. Editor and Trustee this year.

“You’ve done a great job of rejuvenating the CBA Forum, and we will certainly want to provide further contributions to the journal in the future.” – Mitch Pollington, AOC Archaeology Group

Publishing this volume, pertaining to the year 2014, in May of 2015 reflects the timing and nature of fieldwork in both the commercial and community sectors, where either post-excavation analyses are still underway or where the writing up of reports, even interim summaries, usually takes place over the winter season. I suspect that this will be the ongoing rhythm for future editions, even if it means missing the opportunity to distribute copies at the CBA Yorkshire Annual General Meeting and Symposium event early in each calendar year. Such are these pressures on time, it is also difficult to build up a pipeline of future papers without those also becoming dated.

“If the next editor is half as good as you, the journal will be in safe hands.” – Ed Dennison Archaeological Services

I am particularly pleased that we are able to present papers aligned to the Communities in Action theme which we introduced last year. The cover image attests to the fantastic planning, fieldwork—and fascinated results—achieved so far in the Swaledale Big Dig, by example. While we do not have any Behind the Scenes papers this year (unfortunately the one on OASIS did not materialise), there is still an opportunity for specialists—whether in archaeological, heritage or museum practices, and their allied sciences—to offer insights into the areas of the discipline that might not otherwise be well understood.

Appreciation

CBAY_Symposium01Once again, I remain indebted to the authors for their time, enthusiasm and tolerance—both those whose papers appear in this volume and those who have promised papers for the next edition. Above all, I am grateful to the CBA Yorkshire Committee and Trustees for their wonderful support over these last three years. It has been a privilege for me, thank you. I will be working with the new editor on a smooth transition and to make last year’s FORUM Yorkshire Volume 2 available as free-to-download, fully open-access, on our website (PDF format and e-magazine style).

Interested in Yorkshire Archaeology?

Why not think about joining CBA Yorkshire, run entirely by volunteers, for the benefit of those interested in the welfare and better understanding of Yorkshire’s historic environment? It aims to encourage and promote greater public knowledge and involvement, and where possible to advance and assist relevant research—ARCHAEOLOGY FOR ALL.

There are also a number of positions available on the Committee, which meets in York four times each year. We are particularly looking for a Web & Social Media officer and Education officer, amongst other roles.

Spence

Symposium image courtesy of Eric Houlder.

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

Microburin is awf to Yorkshire | Smell of prehistory in the air

FOR IT IS DIGGING SEASON AND THE SEASONING IS GOOD!

Kiplin-Hall-560Dear Microburins,

Been busy writing up some lithics in the temporary luxury of the air-conditioned lab, outside temperature above 30, experiencing delight with the new desk-clamped anglepoise camera attachment device thingy and gossiping with my neighbouring office friends – who have nothing to do with heritage or archaeology let alone tiny lithic tools – about what I’m up to. I love how interested they are and the brilliant questions they ask. I’m even Tweeped-up with the lovely office manager, Lenka, who observed my early antics (and burglarized anxieties) as I tried to make sense of excavation outputs. Turns out that the corporate film company, next door, know the DIG Ventures crew through family. Archaeology does get about a bit.

Tool boxes x2, bags, undies (unserialised), caps hats and bonnets, insect repellents, mattocks, ranging poles, hampers, odd socks and coolboxes are now packed for the next adventure – the annual digging round, this time supervising and training volunteers on an exciting project in North Yorkshire. There’s more than 10,000 years of archaeology in prospect here, post-glacial up to the present day. The most enjoyable aspect, as always, as every one of the past few years, is the direct human repartee – the crowd of folks from amazing backgrounds – who make any fieldwork compelling and rewarding.

I hope you have a brilliant summer too – much appreciate you taking an interest.

Charting Chipeling – The Archaeology of Kiplin Hall

Kiplin_KidsFor the past six months we’ve been slowly uncovering the archaeology of the Kiplin Hall grounds through a variety of archive research, landscape and earthwork survey, historic building recording and test-pitting. Now the three-week excavation is upon us and you are very welcome to come to Kiplin and take part in the excavations. The dig will be running from Monday 28 July to Friday 15 August (except Sundays) and there are currently spaces available on all days.

george_calvertTargets to be excavated include a ditch-and-bank enclosure currently thought to be part of the wider medieval grange that pre-dated the Jacobean Hall, built by the founder of Baltimore USA, a probable post-medieval brick kiln and the line of the medieval and potentially earlier road that preceded the turnpike road to Northallerton. Anybody interested please contact jb@solsticeheritage.co.uk with your preferred dates and he’ll add you to the list.

More information on the project can also be found at www.chartingchipeling.co.uk

Spence