Mesolithic Yorkshire – Star Carr, a major European Mesolithic Site
First excavated by Grahame Clark between 1949 and 1951, Starr Carr has dominated archaeologists’ understanding of the Mesolithic period in Britain ever since. As the site is waterlogged and conserved in peat, Clark’s excavations were able to uncover an extraordinarily well preserved array of finds: large quantities of butchered animal bone, barbed antler projectile points, elk antler mattocks, bone scrapers, beads and, most iconic of all, several masks made from red deer skulls and antler.
Microliths (narrow blade type): Conistone Moor (Late Mesolithic c. 6000 BC) (G. Waterhouse Collection)
Clark suggested these may either have been worn in ritual dances or acted as disguises designed to aid hunting. Additional excavations at the site in the 1980s uncovered part of a platform of worked aspen timbers on the edge of the former post-glacial lake (Lake Flixton) on which Star Carr sat, the earliest evidence for systematic carpentry in Britain. These later excavations also revealed that the site was much larger than had originally been thought and had been repeatedly occupied over a period of around 300 years.
Work undertaken by the Universities of Manchester, York and UCL in 2004 revealed a continuous spread of lithic artefacts over 150m, tripling the known extent of the site. Test-pitting and more extensive excavations followed over the subsequent three seasons, revealing dense occupation of the dryland areas of the site, with evidence for intensive flint knapping and the processing of animal bones. In the waterlogged areas large quantities of red deer antler were recovered much of which appears to have been waste material used in the production of barbed antler points, of the type recovered by Clark. This may support recent ideas that Star Carr, rather than being a typical base camp as Clark supposed, was actually a site where certain rites took place, involving the ritual deposition of antler barbed points and frontlets into the waters of the lake.
By far the most exciting recent find was of a Mesolithic house, the earliest so far known from Britain, dating to 8500BC or possibly even earlier. What remained of the structure was a ring of 18 posts enclosing an area about 3.5m in diameter. The clustering of the postholes suggests the house may have been repaired during its lifetime. Within the posts, a 2.5m wide pit had been dug into the ground. This contained sediments composed of decayed organic matter, perhaps reeds or grasses. These would have created a soft floor for the inhabitants. The sediments did not contain any charcoal, but the house contained burnt stone tools and manufacturing debris, suggesting it once contained a hearth. Beyond the house were external hearths around which further activities involving the manufacture and use of stone tools and the processing of animal bones were focused.