Star Carr and the early postglacial occupation of the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire.
Research Aims and Current Results
The project has been in progress since 1989 and is focused on a systematic reinvestigation of the well-known early Mesolithic site of Star Carr and its setting in the wider archaeological and palaeoenvironmental context of the ancient Lake Pickering in north-east Yorkshire. Excavations some 30 metres to the east of the areas originally excavated by J.G.D. Clark in 1949-51 have revealed a well preserved Mesolithic occupation surface containing dense concentrations of Mesolithic lithic artefacts and associated faunal remains, sealed beneath an intact layer of Mesolithic peat. Excavations in the deeper organic deposits of the adjacent lake-edge zone revealed what appears to be a deliberately constructed wooden platform, consisting of split and worked timbers laid down over a distance of 6 metres in the waterlogged deposits of the reedswamp zone. Both lithic artefacts and a series of worked red deer antlers are closely associated with this platform - which seems to have been intended to provide access between the dryland areas of the Mesolithic occupation surface and the open waters of the adjacent lake. Nothing of this kind was encountered in the earlier excavations at Star Carr.,
A parallel programme of high-resolution pollen and sedimentological studies undertaken by Dr. S.P. Dark has placed the human occupation of Star Carr into a much more detailed chronological and palaeoecological framework. Dating of 12 closely-spaced radiocarbon samples from the lake-edge zone by AMS techniques has allowed a close correlation between the date series and the radiocarbon calibration curve for the early postglacial period, which confirms the existence of a major plateaux in the radiocarbon time-scale centred on c 9600 BP in radiocarbon years. Calibration of the dates shows that the actual (calendrical) age of the Star Carr occupation spans a period of ca. 350 years, from c. 10,700-10,350 BP - approximately 1000 years earlier than the original radiocarbon dates had indicated. Studies of the distribution of microscopic and macroscopic charoal in the lake-edge deposits show evidence for repeated burning of the reedswamp zone over this period, closely associated with the human occupation and probably intended (inter alia) to improve access between the occupation site and the lake itself. Investigation of a much deeper (7 metre) organic sequence close to the centre of the original lake deposits has placed the human occupation of the site within a more general framework of climatic and vegetational changes spanning the late-glacial and early postglacial periods.
The current phase of investigations at Star Carr is intended to place the site within the wider context of later Upper Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic occupation of the former Lake Pickering, in association with the work of the Vale of Pickering Research Trust. Systematic studies of early Mesolithic lithic assemblages from 10 separate locations around the former lake are being undertaken as a PhD project by Chantal Conneller, in association with Dr. Andrew David of the English Heritage Ancient Monuments Laboratory. Further studies are integrating the archaeological field investigations of the Vale of Pickering Research Trust with these studies of the lithic assemblages, and with continuing palaeoecological research in the lake basin. New excavations in the areas adjacent to the Star Carr site are planned over the next two seasons. The project is based in the Star Carr Laboratory of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Downing Street, Cambridge.