Category Archives: Archaeology

Illuminating Star Carr

I happened upon a fantastic article on Star Carr from the magazine ‘Current Archaeology’. This was a chance online discovery but I was glad to find it. The piece is a marvellous synthesis of all that we currently know about the Mesolithic site of Star Carr near Scarborough.

A rainbow over Star Carr, once the haunt of a stone-age community living on a lake shore.

The piece, entitled ‘Life beside the lake – Opening a window on the Mesolithic at Star Carr’, is based on a research monograph published by the Star Carr team. The article is fascinating and wonderful to read, albeit a long read, but worth it.

I’ve been privileged to meet some of the archaeologists who have unravelled these insights and to have watched them at work on the digs on the farmland that was Lake Flixton, around 11,000yrs ago. Star Carr will forever have a special place in my heart.

Overlooking the remains of the ‘central platform’, under excavation in 2013
Overlooking the remains of the ‘central platform’, under excavation in 2013. This was the earliest and the largest of three platforms, each made from massive timbers and whole trees, that were built at Star Carr over a 175-year period. [Image: Star Carr project, CC BY-NC 4.0]

I urge you to set aside half an hour to read the full piece – or at least look at the images. It is a great article for those of us for whom a full two-volume academic monograph is too weighty to digest.

To whet your appetite I’ve taken the liberty of choosing some juicy extracts. Enjoy:

Herein lies the paradox of Star Carr: it is at once an invaluable source of evidence about Mesolithic living, opening a vivid window onto a world that is not well represented in British archaeology, and an enigmatic anomaly.

The discovery of possible houses is exciting not only because of their rarity, but because they provide a welcome reminder of the importance of wood to Mesolithic communities. This material rarely survives on Mesolithic sites, but the presence of structures and the great timber platforms highlight how skilled Star Carr’s occupants were at using it.

Another deceptively mundane material from the site that sheds interesting light on Mesolithic life is the humble bracket fungus. This species is also known as ‘tinder fungus’ because of its usefulness for starting fires…… Star Carr can now boast the largest-known assemblage of charred fungus from Mesolithic Britain.

…one of the most unusual items from Star Carr is a small shale pendant etched with a series of parallel lines and smaller markings drawn at right angles…experimental archaeology suggests that when freshly cut they would have been vibrantly white against the darker background, and similar artefacts are known from southern Scandinavia. Possible interpretations of the markings are numerous…

Hilts, Carly, 2019, Life beside the lake, Current Archaeology 349

I hope you find the article as enlightening as I did. This site has in many ways been an enigma since its disovery in the forties, re-interpreted many times and the academic debate will surely continue. I doubt that Star Carr has given up all of its secrets yet, but it has offered a remarkable picture of life by a wetland 11,000 years ago.

Further reading
Nicky Milner, Chantal Conneller, and Barry Taylor (eds), Star Carr: Vol.1 – A Persistent Place in a Changing World and Vol.2 – Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment, White rose University Press, ISBN 978-1912482009.

e-versions of both volumes can be downloaded for free:

https://universitypress.whiterose.ac.uk/ site/books/10.22599/book1/ 

https:// universitypress.whiterose.ac.uk/site/ books/10.22599/book2/ 

For more on the Star Carr archaeology project, see www.starcarr.com.

The link to the Current Archaeology article https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/life-beside-the-lake.htm

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Prehistory in primary schools -Teaching resources road-test

Rainbow

The peaty fields around Star Carr, once the shore of a Stone Age lake, where a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer settlement has given remarkable insights into how prehistoric people interacted with their environment 11,000 years ago. 

 

Prehistory is on the Primary Curriculum these days, which is great news. What’s not so great is that many schools and more importantly teachers are not as well-informed about the Stone Age as they would wish and need help designing engaging programmes of study for their pupils about prehistory. Thankfully the team involved with the Star Carr Archaeology Project at York University have been putting their minds to this and designing some excellent teaching resources for schools to understand the stone age and make the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, near Scarborough relevant to children in the modern age. Please share with teachers this opportunity to get in early and preview the materials they have produced and give some constructive feedback on the resources. The following four paragraphs are reproduced from the facebook page of the Star Carr Project  (which by the way is excellent).

TEACHING ABOUT THE MIDDLE STONE AGE
The Star Carr team has been busy producing resources for teachers about the site and the Mesolithic. 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 Don Henson at dh625@york.ac.uk.

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.

 

That little lot sounds to me like a whole term’s worth of material for engaging and inspiring a generation of young scientists to think about our place in the world and what sites like Star Carr can teach us. If you think you know a teacher who would be willing to road test some of  these units in school do encourage them to email Don Henson at the University of York  (dh625@york.ac.uk) who would be pleased to hear from them.

Star Carr hits Social Media

The setting of Star Carr near Seamer, Scarborough in the Vale of Pickering, taken from Flixton Brow, Feb 2016

The setting of Star Carr near Seamer, Scarborough in the Vale of Pickering, taken from Flixton Brow, Feb 2016

It was with trembling excitement over the past week that learned of a new and very welcome milestone in the Star Carr archaeology project. In fact two milestones. The first, last Thursday afternoon when a colleague informed me that Star Carr was on Facebook. (Type in to the search box MesolithicStarCarr.) The second came after the weekend when a twitter account for the project was revealed. At this news my pulse was actually racing.

Now I’ve long suspected that the StarCarr.com site was under-visited not to mention clunky and infrequently updated. (Here I have to be careful as I am responsible myself for long hiatuses in blog posts and upgrades to this site.) I have also felt that whenever there was some momentous research announcement or an event to publicise I struggled with the absence of any official social media presence for Star Carr, feeling barely satisfied to stick a hashtag in front of #StarCarr in the hope of reaching the enormous audience out there with an appetite for knowledge about this remarkable Mesolithic landscape.
Anyway, I need fret no more that @CarrsWetland and this wordpress blog is a poor stand-in evangelist for the archaeological phenomenon that is Star Carr. Enjoy, Like, Follow, Share away. I’m looking forward to doing lots of that in the coming weeks and months as the University of York spread the message about the Prehistoric site near Scarborough, its unique setting in North Yorkshire’s Vale of Pickering and the astonishing window it offers on Stone Age life in North-West Europe.

Star Carr exhibits to go on show in Scarborough

Rotunda Museum, Scarborough

Rotunda Museum, Scarborough

A new display case featuring material about the Mesolithic site of Star Carr is due to go on public display in February 2016 at Scarborough’s famous Rotunda Museum. The artefacts will be all existing material from the Scarborough Collections which have been out of the public gaze in the storerooms in recent years. They will give a glimpse into the life of hunter gatherer humans in the Vale of Pickering. The Rotunda, designed by ‘Father of English Geology’ William Smith is looked after by Scarborough Museums Trust. The welcome return of a public Star Carr display at The Rotunda will enable some of the remarkably preserved 10 000 year old animal bone and plant remains from Star Carr to be inspected by the public at large. We look forward to the opening of the new exhibit.

Recent material, including that from the last digs at Star Carr in Summer 2015 is being conserved and analysed in York, where there is access to specialist facilities and techniques demanded by the much more degraded and fragile recent finds.

Full of fascinating objects, the Rotunda Museum is home to Gristhorpe Man, a unique Bronze Age skeleton found near Scarborough buried in a tree trunk, the best example of a tree burial in the UK. There is also the Speeton Plesiosaur, a fantastic marine reptile from the Cretaceous period, found near Filey. The most important prehistoric artefacts are the bone and vegetable items from the Star Carr and Flixton Carr sites. Scarborough has one of the 21 red deer frontlets excavated at Star Carr in the 1950s by John Clarke which have been dated to c.8000 BC.

 

The last ever digs at Star Carr?

Star Carr excavations in, June 2014

Last year’s Star Carr excavations, in June 2014.

Summer 2015 saw a final  excavations season at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr near Seamer, Scarborough as the University of York’s five year long Postglacial research project, funded by the European Research Council, draws to a close. Being located on private farmland with no public access, it can be easy to understand why so many people living nearby are still in the dark about this Stone Age site. Many thousands of people must have unwittingly passed by on the A64 trunk road into Scarborough, just a kilometer or so from Star Carr.

Mind you, even if one did get close to the site there is not much to see to the untrained eye but a typical Yorkshire field…..that is unless you were there when archaeological investigators were at work. Even then,the digs were only transient windows into the past – the excavations being filled in after each season to protect the material from the elements. It’s now a Yorkshire field again.

Luckily for us the Star Carr team and various students made some short films in their final few digging seasons about the excavations,  the artefacts found there and their significance, about the story of the site’s discovery over 60 years ago and about the experiences of some of the students, researchers and volunteers who have worked on the digs.
Some videos you might want to check out are below. These are the ones that area easily located on YouTube but if you find any good ones not listed do contact us and we’ll add them.

Skulls, Shamans and Sacrifice in Stone Age Britain Published on 13 Jul 2015

The Mesolithic settlement of Star Carr in North Yorkshire has fascinated archaeologists for decades. Nicky Milner and her digging team from York University are embarking on their final ever excavation on site to unlock the secrets of this mysterious landscape. They’ve been filming every moment of discovery to give us a glimpse into our ancient past.

A Mystery of Star Carr Published on 23 May 2013

A film made in support of the Yorkshire Museum’s exhibition “After the Ice”, which opens on 24th May 2013. The film is about the pre-historic antler frontlets excavated in 1951 at Star Carr, Yorkshire. Made by Adam Clark, Olivia Morrill, and Susan De Val. To keep updated with our progress, check out our blog!

A 3-minute film on the history of the archaeological site of Star Carr. This film was created by Emma Carr, Jenna Tinning, and Kelly Guerrieri for the Yorkshire Museum’s exhibition ‘After the Ice’. Check out the blogs where we update you on all our progress at: http://yorkstudentheritage.blogspot.co.uk

The People of Star Carr Published on 23 May 2014  

A 3 minute film produced by Katrina Gargett and Lexi Baker, two BA Heritage Studies students at the University of York. It has been made for display at The Yorkshire Museum and features the archaeologists who previously worked at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire.

When Star Carr made international headlines in 2010 for the discovery of evidence of Briatain’s oldest ‘house’ the news was shared all over the world… Archaeologists Uncover Britains Oldest House Uploaded on 13 Aug 2010  Archaeologists say they have discovered Britain’s oldest house at a Stone Age site in northern England. Researchers say the house dates back 10,500 years.

In Focus: Star Carr   Uploaded on 18 Aug 2011 (Archaeosoup Productions)

Welcome to In Focus. In this series we take a closer look at particular sites, finds and objects from the world of Archaeology.

The www.starcarr.com website also has some videos of excavations in recent years which you can look at here. One in particular, The Other Side of the Antler filmed in 2006 at the beginning of the modern phase of investigations by the Vale of Pickering Research Trust gives a detailed look at the digs that year. Did you know how important Star Carr is to archaeologists? It has been said that Star Carr is as important for the Mesolithic period as Stonehenge is to the Neolithic.  Scarborough Borough Council owns a field close by to the scheduled Star Carr site which has some similar topographic features and has also been the site of digs and test pits over the years. It is still hoped that a way can be found to promote public access to the vicinity of Star Carr.

 

Flixton Digs Open Weekend

Prof. Nicky Milner with members of the public at Flixton digs in 2013

Prof. Nicky Milner with members of the public at the Flixton Island open digs open day in 2013

 

Get yourself down to Flixton Bridge on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th Aug for a fantastic chance to meet the archaeologists digging the Flixton Island Stone Age site. Organised by the University of York and The Star Carr Project in collaboration with the Wetland Project. Aall events are free – just turn up and join a tour on Saturday or Sunday.

Guided visits to Flixton Island archaeological dig- a rare opportunity to observe this summer’s excavations at this important Mesolithic site. Meet the archaeologists conducting the dig, observe work in progress, view the finds from this summer’s investigations and find out why this site is so important to understanding the environment in the Stone Age.

Wetlands Ancient and Modern – interpreting The Carrs landscape. Join Wetland Project Officer Tim Burkinshaw (Sat morning) for a journey of discovery about Scarborough’s wetland heritage. Learn the origin of the black peat soils at Flixton, discover the fascinating history of the drainage of The Carrs, The River Hertford and the work of local farmers to restore a modern day wetland landscape.

Artist Ruth Collett will be on site on Sunday afternoon to talk about her work interpreting the excavation in film and sculpture. There will also be a chance to buy one of the Star Carr books or pamphlets, which are excellent by the way. (£13 and £2 I’m sure correct change will be helpful) Proceeds go towards future public events by the Star Carr team.

Provisional schedule:

9.30am (Sat only) Landscape interpretation talk. “From Stone Age to Drain-age – A potted history of wetlands and land drainage in the Vale of Pickering.”  (20mins, subject to demand, for those who cannot stay after digs tour.)

10.00am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm Tours of the digs (both Sat and Sun)  – Join a member of The Star Carr Project team for a tour of the excavations and quiz the archaeologists about the Prehistoric site of Flixton Island. Tours will probably last 30-40mins.

11.00am and 1.30pm Landscape history walk (Sat only) –“ Wetlands Ancient and Modern” Join Tim Burkinshaw from Scarborough Borough Council for a short easy stroll from Flixton Bridge around adjoining fields. The walk will put the Flixton digs in a wider landscape context, including the formation of the Prehistoric wetland ‘Lake Flixton’ and its importance for studies of past climate, and to our future climate. Learn about the historic drainage act which enabled the improvement of the land for farming and how some local farmers are helping to ‘put back’ habitats for wetland wildlife through stewardship schemes today.

Getting there: Access to the site is just south of Flixton Bridge (TA 039 812) where there is off road parking by kind permission of the landowner. Access by car from Flixton village down North Street is a single track lane with limited passing and turning space. Please proceed slowly and take care of pedestrians, dog-walkers etc. Alternatively park at the top of North St and walk down the lane. Local buses eg Coastliner 843 stop at the top of North Street. Allow 20-30 minutes for the pleasant walk to Flixton Bridge. The Foxhound pub (large car park for customers) serves food from 12.00pm.

What to bring: Sturdy footwear advised. The site is very open – dress warmly and bring a waterproof coat if rain is forecast. Well behaved dogs welcome but must be on a lead in the fields.

Our thanks go again to Mr Paul Chapman on whose land the digs take place, for granting permission for the archaeological investigations and for public access for the open weekend. Please be aware that this is private land, so this is a special opportunity to view the Stone Age site. Trenches will be filled in again after the open weekend to preserve the archaeology.

You may also like to read about last year’s open days elsewhere on the blog

Flixton Island goes on the market

13.07.16 Flixton Carr hay bales view

One of the parcels of peatland pasture put up for sale at Flixton Bridge, adjacent to the Mesolithic site of Flixton Island.

A piece of Stone Age real estate has gone on the market, offering a chance for someone sympathetic to its archaeological significance to purchase a chunk of ‘Palaeo-Lake-side’ property.

A number of parcels of pasture land near Flixton Bridge, Scarborough, including the heritage sites of ‘Flixton Island’ and ‘No Name Hill’ are currently up for sale.
Link to sale particulars on http://www.rightmove.co.uk  Link to the sale brochure (pdf download) from RightMove. The archaeology here ties closely to that of the more famous Star Carr Mesolithic site just a few hundred metres west. The renowned  Star Carr research project has focussed recent summer fieldwork investigations on Flixton Island, and indeed the field has been the location for filming by Channel Four’s Time Team and hosted public open days to show people the digs taking place. The Star Carr Team are hopeful that the sale of the land will not jeopardise the heritage of the site, which has no formal statutory protection, but is, for a few years more subject to an HLS stewardship agreement, including an undertaking not to plough the Flixton Island and No Name Hill fields. The HLS parcels are lightly grazed or cut for hay and they are managed to encourage wetland bird species such as Lapwing.
We do not have the funds or the expertise to buy and manage the land, but we are hoping that someone who is sympathetic to archaeology will end up purchasing it.
Flixton Bridge lies near the centre of the deep ‘fen peat’ soils left behind by the Stone Age wetland known as Palaeolake Flixton. Today it sits on the Hertford floodplain, the drainage cut of the same name slicing right along the length of the former like of 12,000 years ago. (Read more on the drainage of the Vale of Pickering landscape here) But in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, as human hunter-gatherer societies were beginning to settle and exploit the natural resources around them there were some small areas of land that rose above the waters of Lake Flixton, where glacial gravels and sands gave them a modest elevation. These islands are still discernible today to the visitor to this pastoral landscape, and represent important Prehistoric sites which are still giving up their stories to modern day archaeologists.

The village of Flixton, with the flat land of Flixton Carr beyond

Flixton village with the flat land of Flixton Carr beyond

Stone Age Sounds at Flixton

Mesolithic Open Days at Flixton Island, Vale of Pickering
See the latest excavations and finds, experience sounds of the Mesolithic, quiz the experts, walk the landscape, volunteer to dig!

Meet the Star Carr Project Team and Tim Burkinshaw of the Carrs Wetland Project

The Star Carr Mesolithic Project Team are holding an open weekend at their excavations at Flixton Island between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 August. Please come along and visit them to learn more about the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites that they are digging.

  • Site tours both Saturday 24-Aug and Sunday 25-Aug:
    >> 10.00, 12.30, 15.30 | tours last about 30 minutes
  • Opportunity to see some of the recent finds
  • Experience the “Mesolithic soundscape” where you can sit in the middle of a circle of speakers and immerse yourself in reconstructed Mesolithic sounds – wild animals, flint knapping, boating across the lake
  • Visit the book stall | Star Carr booklet £2 or the book £13 | profits go towards further public events
  • On the Saturday only, guided walks around the wetland landscape with Tim Burkinshaw of The Carrs Wetland Project – join Tim to look for clues of shrinking peat soils and learn how local farmers are helping to protect the heritage of this floodplain landscape and its wildlife:
    >> 11.00 and 14.00 | walks last about an hour

Directions

The site is located down North Street in Flixton near Scarborough North Yorkshire, YO11 3UA, Grid ref: TA 039 812. You can either park in Flixton and walk down North Street or drive down North Street. North Street is a single track lane with limited passing or turning space. It is possible to drive down to the site and park off-road in the field adjacent to the dig by kind permission of the farmer.

If you choose to drive down the lane please proceed very slowly with great care for pedestrians, dogs, horses, etc.

The pub in Flixton village, The Fox Hound Inn cannot provide parking unless you intend to have lunch there and as it is bank holiday it may be worth booking in | Tel 01723 890301

How to volunteer

Anyone who would still like a chance to volunteer for excavations, please email the Project Manager, Mike Bamforth who is arranging these opportunities. Further info on http://www.starcarr.com

[This post reproduced with permission of Teeside Archaeological Society eNews Archive ]