Star Carr and Lake Flixton archives

University of York, 2018

Data copyright © University of York unless otherwise stated


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Prof Nicky Milner
Department of Archaeology
University of York
King's Manor
Exhibition Square
York
YO1 7EP
England
Tel: 01904 323940
Fax: 01904 323902

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Introduction

Star Carr is arguably the most well known Mesolithic site in Europe. The potential of this area was first discovered by the work of local amateur archaeologist John Moore in the late 1940s, who realised that the flat expanse of peat within the eastern end of the Vale of Pickering had once been an ancient lake, which he called Lake Flixton. Since the Mesolithic period, the lake had infilled with peat and this had created excellent preservation conditions for the archaeology in this area.

Moore also discovered nine Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic sites along the edges of the lake by searching for flint and bone in the drainage ditches that run through the fields. He excavated a small trench at Star Carr and shared his findings with Grahame Clark at the University of Cambridge, who was the leading Mesolithic expert at the time. Clark had been looking for a Mesolithic site with organic preservation and so conducted three seasons of excavation from 1949-1951. He found a staggering array of rare artefacts such as antler frontlets thought to be headdresses, antler barbed points, shale and amber beads, a wooden paddle and vast quantities of animal bone. As a consequence of these discoveries, and also because he published his findings shortly after in a book in 1954, the site of Star Carr shot to international fame in the archaeological world. It is also important to note that this work set a precedent for ground breaking integration of archaeology and palaeoecology with equal emphasis being placed upon studying both the nature of human occupation at the site and the environmental conditions in which this occupation took place.

No further work was undertaken in the area until the 1970s when further archaeological discoveries were made during the development of the Seamer landfill site in 1975 by Tim Schadla-Hall, giving rise to the Seamer Carr Project and prompting the excavation of a series of lake-edge occupation episodes dating to the Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic. Following on from this, the Vale of Pickering Research Trust was established in 1985, with the aim to map Lake Flixton and to identify and record further evidence of human occupation along the edges of the lake. This also involved further fieldwork at Star Carr for further environmental exploration, but which in fact produced a small glimpse at a wooden platform, revealing the oldest evidence of carpentry in Europe (Mellars and Dark 1998).

The work of the Vale of Pickering Research Trust noted a marked deterioration in the preservation conditions at sites in the area, and growing concerns about the stability of organic remains still to be excavated at Star Carr led to further work at the site between 2004-2015. This research, under the direction of Professor Nicky Milner (University of York), Dr Barry Taylor (University of Chester) and Dr Chantal Conneller (University of Manchester), aimed to answer outstanding questions surrounding the physical extent of the site, the environmental context in which human activity was taking place and the rate of deterioration in the preservation conditions at Star Carr. The work was carried out in two main phases: the first phase (2004-2010) was largely exploratory and developed methods and approaches as well as assessing the state of deterioration of the deposits, funded by English Heritage (now Historic England), the British Academy, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Vale of Pickering Research Trust.

The second phase, was funded by the European Research Council (project: POSTGLACIAL) and Historic England. The project centered on the Early Holocene occupation around the edges of Palaeolake Flixton, and featured specific archaeological investigations at the sites of Star Carr (2013-2015) and Flixton Island II (2012-2014). The principal aim of the project was to implement an interdisciplinary, high-resolution approach to understanding hunter-gatherer lifeways within the context of climate and environment change during the early part of the postglacial period (c. 10,000-8000 BC), with four key objectives:

  • To push forward the frontiers of knowledge of postglacial archaeology
  • To conduct high-resolution, multi-proxy analyses of climatic and environmental change
  • To set a new benchmark for the analysis of archaeological deposits, by developing an integrated 'forensic' approach to the analysis of the artefactual and molecular debris left by human activity
  • To integrate climate signals with environmental change and human activity

The final year of the funded project, 2016, was dedicated to writing up the results and collation of the archive, which has continued into 2018. The work at Star Carr has been published in a number of papers (see publications) and two books on Star Carr, available electronically:

  • Milner, N., Conneller, C. and Taylor, B. 2018. Star Carr Volume 1: A Persistent Place in a Changing World. York: White Rose University Press DOI: https://doi.org/10.22599/book1
  • Milner, N., Conneller, C. and Taylor, B. 2018. Star Carr Volume 2: Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment. White Rose University Press DOI: https://doi.org/10.22599/book2

Flixton Island is currently being written up into a book.

Other archaeological investigations from around the lake are summarised in the interactive map section and it is hoped that in the future other archives will be uploaded into this archive.

Funding

We are very grateful to the following bodies for their support and funding:

  • English Heritage/Historic England (grants 5536, 6064, 6793, 6796) and for funding the radiocarbon dating programme, carried out by Alex Bayliss
  • The British Academy (grants SG-44333, SG-47081, SG-50217)
  • Natural Environment Research Council grant (NE/I015191/1)
  • European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement No 283938 (POSTGLACIAL)
  • A workplace bursary placement position (for the archives), part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the (then) Institute for Archaeologists (now Chartered Institute for Archaeologists CIFA)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (Phd funding for Charlotte Rowley and Don Henson)
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the fellowship grant (752-2014-0366) (PhD funding for Shannon Croft)
  • Vale of Pickering Research Trust
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Chester
  • University of York
  • University College London
  • McDonald Institute Cambridge