Tag Archives: Star Carr

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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Origin of the word ‘Carr’

Carr is a habitat type which used to be much more abundant in the UK before intensive agriculture and drainage of land. It refers to a wetland habitat, generally wet woodland with willow and alder scrub in low-lying areas. Ecologists and botanists have very particular uses for terms like fen, carr, mire and bog but for most people they will be synonymous; referring to land that is waterlogged for some or all of the year.

They derive from a time when such wet ground was generally of little use – you couldn’t cultivate it, the ground was too wet for grazing animals much of the year etc. Possibly some firewood or peat could be cut, or sometimes reeds for thatching. This was true for centuries, until large-scale schemes to drain the fens and lowlands especially from the 1800 onwards.

‘Carr’ in particular derives from a Norse / Viking word for this type of land and as much of the east and north of England was settled by Viking invaders, there are lots of ‘Carr’ place names in Yorkshire, in flatter, low-lying areas. Star Carr is said to translate as ‘sedge bog’. Its near neighbours include Flixton Carr, Folkton Carr, Cayton Carr, Seamer Carr and Staxton Carr. These all relate to their nearest settlement, being local villages around the periphery of the peatland. Star Carr is perhaps the odd one out – there is no village called ‘Star’ but the name Star Carr refers to both the geographical area of land and the specific archaeological site of international repute.

Local farmers refer to these areas as ‘black land’ owing to the very dark carbon-rich soil. Indeed, the extremely high proportion of organic matter, over 90%, makes this land an important and oft-overlooked store of carbon, locked-away ten thousand years ago. The very ‘improvement’ of this land for agriculture by draining it causes its organic peat to decompose as soon as oxygen can get in. Rather like a sinking compost heap it slowly but surely shrinks lower as the organic matter is oxidised and CO2 released. This is why ditches and have to be dug prograssively deeper and older generations of land drains (such as lines of terracota pipes), once laid four feet or more deep become exposed at the surface.

There is more info on the Carrs Wetland Project website about land drainage, the River Hertford and peatland which go into more detail. Likewise Star Carr, the Mesolithic settlement site, now buried beneath the peat is described elsewhere on the blog. If you wish to read more about the long lost lake from which the Scarborough Carrs originate, look up Lake Flixton.

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.

 

Reporting from Star Carr, a Peek in the Peat…

It was a windy day in the Vale of Pickering when archaeologists Michael Bamforth and Becky Knight from the University of York and Ian Panter from the York Archaeological Trust were interviewed by Sue Nelson for BBC Radio 4 . The team walked along the River Hertford to view the field that harbours the Palaeo Lake Flixton under its turf, and visualise what the site would have looked back in the Stone Age.

Image

Archaeology has become an interdisciplinary field of research which has benefited greatly in recent decades by utilising scientific methods such as chemical isotope analyses and radiocarbon dating. This short interview was conducted in the field and followed up in the chemistry labs at York. It focuses on  the interaction of science and archaeology, and the impact of Star Carr in terms of Mesolithic discoveries.

The 8-minute interview is destined for broadcast on Radio 4’s Inside Science programme, so tune in to hear more about the challenges facing Star Carr’s buried artefacts.

by Fevziye Hasan

New Year Deer

In my first week back at work in 2013 my reward for checking on the wetland fields near Flixton Bridge was a close encounter with five beautiful Roe Deer. I first spotted the group some 500m distant but as I was downwind they perhaps didn’t notice me til they were close. It was a treat to watch them negotiate a water-filled ditch and clear a low hedge before setting off at a sprint away from me. I captured this young stag with my compact camera as it crossed an open field east of Star Carr. Nice to get the drainage board’s digger in the distance, working on Black Dike drain. These fields used to be Set Aside a 13.01.04 030running roe and digger Star Carrfew years ago which gave them a little more cover to hide in. They also spend a lot of time in small woodland coverts but are actually quite commonly seen on The Carrs. Not usually so close though. My first Roes of the New Year.

Reflections of a wetland officer

A jungle of hemlock on an abandoned arable field near Star Carr was the daunting starting point five yrs ago this autumn for a wet grassland creation site. This 40 acre lump of Carr land belonging to Scarborough Borough Council was the first location where, as a newly recruited Wetland Project Officer I was expected to demonstrate the viability of Higher Level Stewardship schemes in our small part of the Vale.

I think it’s fair to say that there were those who voiced their doubts and concerns at the time and indeed there may be plenty of people even now who upon seeing the site today will wonder and ask what all the fuss is about. I don’t mind admitting that there were moments when even I had my doubts whether this wet grassland restoration lark was going to prove viable on The Carrs in the face of strong economic pressures on farms to boost food production, grow energy crops or invest in re-draining of arable floodplain land.