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2. MESOLITHIC (c.9500-c.4000 cal BC): RESEARCH OBJECTIVES#

Mesolithic Updated Agenda and Research Objectives Table
Click here to see details of agenda themes and topics for this period.
For more information about each Research Objective, select from the links below:

Research Objective 2A Research Objective 2B Research Objective 2C Research Objective 2D Research Objective 2E Research Objective 2F Research Objective 2G Research Objective 2H Research Objective 2I


Research Objective 2A#

Enhance understanding of the environmental background to Mesolithic activity #

Summary:
By comparison with some other areas of the country, the Mesolithic environment of the East Midlands is little known. In particular there is little evidence to indicate the extent to which tree cover may have been manipulated to encourage the development of vegetation suites for hunting and foraging. Research into ancient environments has focused on the Pennine uplands of Derbyshire[1] and more recently upon organic deposits retrieved from palaeochannels along the Trent and other major river valleys[2]. In Derbyshire, dated pollen sequences have been obtained[3], together with evidence for the potential modification of vegetation by fire around former lakes and mires[4]. The evidence obtained so far suggests that the deliberate creation of forest clearings is a feature of the later Mesolithic, from after about 8000 cal BC[5][6]. There is a need to obtain more closely dated pollen sequences from upland, riverine and coastal peat deposits and to extend the investigation of ancient environments to include isotope studies of the organic fractions of coastal and riverine sediments. The submerged landscapes of Doggerland also present major opportunities for landscape analysis in the form of submarine palaeochannels, pre-inundation land surfaces and peats (Objective 2H)[7]. Coversand deposits, such as those flanking the eastern edge of the lower Trent Valley[8], also merit special mention. Recent work suggests reworking of some late Devensian coversands in the Early Holocene as a result possibly of Mesolithic clearance and/or climatic change[9]. Additional optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of coversands and pollen analysis may be recommended to elucidate further the chronology of coversand reworking and the history of vegetation change.

Agenda topics addressed 2.1.1-2.1.3; 2.3.1; 2.6.1-2.6.3

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67, 265

SHAPE 2008: Understanding the impact of past climate change (1111.410); Understanding ancient environments and ecologies (11111.420); New frontiers: mapping our marine heritage (11112.110)

NHPP 2011: Deeply buried/subterranean Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (3A3); Identification of wetland/waterlogged sites (3A5); Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1)

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR1, Topic 9 (Reconstructing Pleistocene and Early Holocene landscapes); Theme PR6, Topics 30 (Human responses to environmental change in prehistory) and 31 (Human interactions with plants and animals in prehistory)
North Sea Prehistory Research and Management Framework 2009, 28: Theme B, 31
Canti, M 2009 A Review of Geoarchaeology in the Midlands of England (English Heritage Research Department Report Series 17). London: English Heritage , 55: Priorities 3.1 (Alluvium), 3.2 (Marine sediments) and 3.3 (Windblown sediments)
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.3.1 (People and the Environment)

References:


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Research Objective 2B#

Characterise the regional and local evidence for Mesolithic activity #

Summary:
The East Midlands is notable for the broad range of environments from which Mesolithic lithic artefacts have been recovered[10], yet this information has generally not informed national syntheses and has yet to be fully exploited in regional research. Early investigations of limestone caves and rock shelters in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire yielded Mesolithic stone artefacts[11], while later work has revealed surface finds and sometimes deeply stratified collections of lithic artefacts across a wide variety of landscapes[12]. These extend from the Pennine spine to the eroding coastal peats of Lincolnshire, and include such diverse environments as the Coal Measures[13], the terraces and coversands of the Trent Valley[14], the wetlands of the Witham Valley[15] and Humberhead Levels[16], and the claylands of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire[17]. Further investigation by excavation[18] has been very limited, however, while the detail of the surface scatters is often not known. It is important to identify the extent, size and shape of artefact distributions and investigate possible associations with sub-surface features[19] in order to characterise these[20], and field methodologies should be adapted appropriately. Curatorial briefs should highlight areas where there has been little or no surface collection and should recognise the potential for wet sieving to recover artefacts and the role of geophysical prospection. The nature and chronology of the lithic material from the region merits separate consideration (Objectives 2C, 2D and 2E), but it is clear that further review of the surface evidence, together with associated excavation, has much to contribute to our understanding of Mesolithic activity in the region.

Agenda topics addressed: 2.1.1-2.1.3; 2.2.1; 2.2.2; 2.2.4; 2.3.1-2.3.5; 2.5.2; 2.5.3.

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67.

SHAPE 2008: Understanding place: researching regional diversity (11111.310).

NHPP 2011: Deeply buried/subterranean Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (3A3); Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Ploughzone archaeology (4G2).

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR1, Topic 6 (Regional diversity in prehistory); Theme PR2, Topic 14 (Understanding and protecting 'sites without structures')
Lithic Studies Society 2004. Research Frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 2-3.
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.4.1 (Understanding materials)

References:


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Research Objective 2C#

Investigate further the earlier Mesolithic lithic resource #

Summary:
The East Midlands region is notable for the range and extent of distribution of lithic material, but much of this remains little studied. In particular, Historic Environment Records (HERs) commonly lack detailed information on the nature of artefact assemblages and the range of lithic types represented[21]. There is, therefore, considerable constraint on the value of the lithic assemblages and of the HERs as resources for targeting excavation and research, and further assessment and review of the assemblages is needed[22]. In addition to a few examples of tranchet axes, earlier Mesolithic assemblages are characterised in our region by non-geometric microliths in the form of oblique points, isosceles triangles and elongated trapezoids, together with scrapers and burins. It is suggested that these were collectively adapted for the hunting and butchering of forest species - as exemplified by the classic type sites of Star Carr in east Yorkshire[23] and Deepcar in the Pennines of southern Yorkshire[24]. Further evaluation of the relationship between these assemblages and the latest Palaeolithic artefact groups is also necessary. The lithic artefact resource of the East Midlands thus offers significant scope for investigating the potential size of earlier Mesolithic hunting territories and key issues such as the relationship of upland lithic scatters to those of the lowlands or of cave to open-air sites[25].

Agenda topics addressed: 2.1.1; 2.1.2; 2.2.1-2.2.3; 2.3.2; 2.3.3; 2.4.1-2.4.4; 2.5.2; 2.5.3

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67

SHAPE 2008: Understanding artefacts and material culture (11111.510)

NHPP 2011: Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Ploughzone archaeology (4G2)

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR3, Topics 17 (Technology and society in prehistory) and 18 (Prehistoric material culture in context); Theme PR8, Topic 37 (Realising the potential of prehistoric archives and collections)
Lithic Studies Society 2004 Research Frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 2-4, 7.
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.4.1 (Understanding materials)

Earlier Mesolithic flint tools from Swarkestone Lowes (Elliott L and Knight, D 1999 `An early Mesolithic and first millennium BC settlement and pit alignments at Swarkestone Lowes, Derbyshire`. `Derbyshire Archaeological Journal` 119, 106-124; reproduced by courtesy of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society)

References:



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Research Objective 2D#

Identify changing patterns of lithic artefact use in the later Mesolithic#

Summary:
The shortcomings in our documentation and understanding of East Midlands lithic material have been noted above (Objectives 2B and 2C). Later Mesolithic assemblages are typified by a wide variety of smaller geometric forms, including scalene and isosceles triangles, rhomboids, crescents and backed rods[26]. It has been suggested that changes in lithic styles between the earlier and later Mesolithic are indicative not of a change in the animals being hunted but of increasing complexity in the hunting weapons that were used[27]. Detailed examination of microlith assemblages suggests the existence of 'style zones' independent of European traditions[28], which might signify the development of sub-regional territories[29]. With ameliorating climate and enhanced plant and animal resources, hunting territories may have shrunk in size; this in turn may have encouraged a semi-sedentary life style, built around regular access to areas which had been cleared of trees to encourage more predictable supplies of game[30]. There are suggestions also that the traditional dichotomy between an earlier and a later Mesolithic may be an over-simplification of a more complex sequence, including an intermediate stage exemplified by Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire artefact assemblages related typologically to the so-called 'Horsham industries' of areas farther south[31] and by a recently excavated assemblage from Asfordby in Leicestershire[32]. The opportunity exists, therefore, to refine knowledge of East Midlands later Mesolithic assemblages and to attempt definition of chronological, functional and cultural traits.

Agenda topics addressed: 2.1.2; 2.1.3; 2.2.1-2.2.3; 2.3.2; 2.4.1-2.4.4; 2.5.2; 2.5.3.

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67.

Flint artefacts from Asfordby, Leicestershire, including obliquely truncated points harking back to the Early Mesolithic (bottom row), typologically distinctive points with inverse basal retouch (middle row) and large geometric forms looking forward to the Late Mesolithic (top row; maximum length 30mm; reproduced by permission of University of Leicester Archaeological Services)
Palaeolithic Updated Agenda and Research Objectives Table

SHAPE 2008: Understanding artefacts and material culture (11111.510)

NHPP 2011: Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Ploughzone archaeology (4G2)

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR3, Topics 17 (Technology and society in prehistory) and 18 (Prehistoric material culture in context)
Lithic Studies Society 2004 Research Frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 2-4.
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.4.1 (Understanding Materials)

References:


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Research Objective 2E#

Provenancing lithic raw materials: identify patterns of mobility#

Summary:
Studies of earlier Mesolithic stone artefacts from south Pennine sites such as Deepcarr in Yorkshire[33] and lowland sites such as Misterton Carr[34] and Swarkestone Lowes[35] have provided persuasive evidence for the movement of raw materials within and beyond the East Midlands, and emphasise the potential of trace element and other scientific techniques for studies of changing patterns of mobility (e.g. by trace element analysis of worked stone and potential source materials)[36]. Determination of possible raw material sources is complicated by the possibility of glacial redeposition of hard rock, which in turn demands detailed study of the composition of local tills and fluvioglacial deposits. In the case of Deepcar-type assemblages from the south Pennines, analysis has shown them to include pre-formed blade cores of a distinctive opaque, mottled, grey-cream flint brought from sources no closer than the Trent Valley and knapped on site, presumably to enhance the hunting kit[37]. This may imply regular annual movements within large territories spanning upland and lowland zones[38]. The evidence for movement of other raw materials such as grey chert is more ambiguous[39], and further scientific research is needed to investigate potential sources. Particular emphasis should be placed upon refining our knowledge of earlier Mesolithic mobility patterns and testing the hypothesis that there was a shift in the later Mesolithic towards an emphasis upon more locally based resources[40].

Agenda topics addressed: 2.5.1

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67

SHAPE 2008: Understanding artefacts and material culture (11111.510); Bright science: technical and technological innovations (14171.310)

NHPP 2011: Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Ploughzone archaeology (4G2)

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR3, Topics 17 (Technology and society in prehistory) and 18 (Prehistoric material culture in context); Theme PR5, Topic 27 (Developing scientific techniques for prehistory).
Lithic Studies Society 2004 Research frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 4-6.
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.4.1 (Understanding materials)

References:

Waterswallows Lane, Buxton, Derbyshire: recent excavations of an early activity focus at the interface between the Dark and White Peak unearthed a wide range of later Mesolithic and Neolithic finds, including non-local grey chert artefacts that are the focus of current study (photograph: Mike Andrews; reproduced by permission of ArcHeritage)
Image 6-1B The Pre-Anglian Bytham and Ancaster river systems


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Research Objective 2F#

Develop a regional lithic raw material reference collection #

Summary
Studies of variations in lithic raw material use has been central to many discussions of Mesolithic assemblage chronology and provenance in the East Midlands and beyond[41] and this remains a key theme in the current Strategy. The region's lithic resource base needs to be explicitly researched as an aid to studies of material recovered during fieldwalking and other archaeological investigations, including the rich and largely untapped resource of unstudied artefact collections buried in museum archives. To facilitate this, our understanding of raw materials should be standardised through the establishment of a readily accessible reference collection. This should include material from areas beyond the region, bearing in mind the mobility of Mesolithic groups and hence the wide range of potential raw material sources, and it is hoped will address the plea of lithic specialists for increased awareness of available raw materials and their properties[42]. This collection would also be useful for studies of the lithic resource of other prehistoric periods, and hence may be highlighted as a key cross-period priority.

Agenda topics addressed: 2.5.1

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67

SHAPE 2008: Understanding artefacts and material culture (11111.510); Realising the research dividend from past unpublished historic environment investigations (11113.110)

NHPP 2011: Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Ploughzone archaeology (4G2)

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR3, Topics 17 (Technology and society in prehistory) and 18 (Prehistoric material culture in context); Theme PR8, Topic 37 (Realising the potential of prehistoric archives and collections)
Lithic Studies Society 2004 Research Frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 7
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.4.1 (Understanding materials)

References:

  • [#41] Myers, A M 2006 'The Mesolithic' in The Archaeology of the East Midlands, 54-55
  • [#42] Lithic Studies Society, 2004 Research Frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 5-6

Image 6-1B The Pre-Anglian Bytham and Ancaster river systems
The diversity of potential raw materials is illustrated by this sample of water-worn rocks retrieved from the Trent gravels, deposited during various stages of the Pleistocene by meltwater-enriched rivers:
  1. Conglomerate pebble from the Triassic (`Bunter`)
  2. Well cemented orthoquartzite;
  3. Poorly cemented orthoquartzite;
  4. Metaquartzite;
  5. Vein quartz;
  6. Schorl;
  7. Flint;
  8. Carboniferous chert;
  9. Rhaxella chert
(Source: Bridgland, D R, Howard, A J, White, M J and White, T S 2006 `The Trent Valley: Archaeology and Landscapes of the Ice Age`. Durham University; © Trent Valley Palaeolithic Project)


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Research Objective 2G#

Investigate the topographic locations of activity foci#

Summary
More attention should be paid to the topographical attributes of Mesolithic activity foci, which have been recorded in a wide variety of locations. Prominent or elevated sites seem often to have been favoured for open-air sites[43], including hilltops and, in regions of subdued topography, subtle ridges and sand islands[44]. Proximity to wetland resources may have been important, to judge by sites such as Misterton Carr[45] and the many lithic scatters spread across river terraces[46], and many more sites may lie buried beneath alluvium, colluvium, coversands or peat[47]. Fieldwalking and test-pitting surveys have also retrieved material from a wide range of other topographic zones across the region[48], and there is much to be learnt about locational strategies during this period. There are significant opportunities to identify associations between specific activities and distinctive topographies, although many questions remain regarding the prevailing vegetation cover. Consideration should also be given to the nature of Mesolithic activity in locations attracting Neolithic settlement or burial. There may be differences between the two periods: Mesolithic finds at Lismore Fields, for example, spread across a low plateau that was later a focus of Neolithic settlement[49], while the chambered cairn at Whitwell[50] occupied a site that, in common with other cairn locations, yielded no trace of Mesolithic activity.

Agenda topics addressed: 2.1.1-2.1.3; 2.2.1; 2.2.2; 2.2.4; 2.3.1; 2.3.3

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67

SHAPE 2008: Understanding place: analysis of specific historic assets and locales (11111.130) and researching regional diversity (1111.310)

NHPP 2011: Deeply buried/subterranean Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (3A3); Identification of wetland/waterlogged sites (3A5); Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Ploughzone archaeology (4G2)

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR2, Topic 10 (Setting prehistoric sites in context)

References:

Mesolithic fieldwalking finds recorded by the Washingborough Archaeological Group in the Witham Valley. The lidar image shows higher (>2mOD) areas of the valley floor (green), lower-lying areas and watercourses (blue shades). Much of the Mesolithic valley floor was later covered by peat, but modern drainage and peat wastage have exposed the earlier land surface (lidar data courtesy of the Environment Agency; processed imagery by Archaeological Project Services)
Image 6-2G Lidar Image of Witham Valley floor, low-lying areas and watercourses


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Research Objective 2H#

Investigate the transition from the Mesolithic to Neolithic #

Summary:
Once it seemed easy: whatever the precise mechanics of the conversion, the Mesolithic was characterised by hunter-gatherers, while the Neolithic was populated by settled farmers. Hard and fast distinctions between the Mesolithic and Neolithic are now increasingly difficult to maintain, although the question of the extent to which societies were 'Mesolithic' or 'Neolithic' still seems valid[51]. Key issues of concern include the continuity of essentially Mesolithic lifeways beyond the fifth millennium BC and the degree to which Early Neolithic populations engaged in agriculture. With notable exceptions such as Lismore Fields[52], evidence for arable farming in the form of querns or cereal grains of undoubted Early Neolithic date remains rare in the East Midlands[53]. Nevertheless, discoveries of early faunal remains indicate a new interest in domesticating animals and the processing of animal products in different ways[54]. In addition, the building of funerary and other ritual or ceremonial monuments, alongside the development of pottery and changes in lithic industries to encompass flake core artefacts and shaped arrowheads at the expense of bladelet types[55], suggests that becoming Neolithic may have been a spiritual conversion as well as a socio-economic or technological one[56]. The issue of changing subsistence strategies and the relationship between Mesolithic and Neolithic lifeways can be addressed in part by consistent sampling of organic material preserved in palaeochannels and other waterlogged or wetland contexts spanning the transition period. Close examination of the occasional features found associated with Mesolithic and Early Neolithic lithic scatters[57] should also be a priority, and should be combined wherever possible with radiocarbon dating and environmental sampling of associated deposits.

Agenda topics addressed: 2.1.3; 2.4.1, 2.4.2; 2.6.1-2.6.3.

Archaeology of the East Midlands: 67, 86, 265-266.

SHAPE 2008: New frontiers: clarifying poorly understood chronologies (11112.510).

NHPP 2011: Identification of wetland/waterlogged sites (3A5); Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1).

Other research frameworks:
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR4, Topic 23 (Key transitions in prehistory).
Lithic Studies Society 2004 Research frameworks for Holocene Lithics in Britain, 6.
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2, 2009: Sections 3.2.1 (Chronology) and 3.3.1 (People and the environment).

References:


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Research Objective 2I#

Exploring Doggerland: target submarine landscapes and the modern coastline#

Summary:
Post-glacial sea-level rises have inundated vast tracts of the low-lying plains that would once have connected eastern England with the Continent[58]. Some 23,000 square kilometres of this submerged landscape, known as Doggerland, have been mapped as part of the North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project, revealing through 3D seismic data a striking image of a broad plain with meandering rivers and lakes[59]. Seismic interpretation techniques have permitted the identification of buried river channels with the potential for significant preservation of cultural and environmental remains that may shed important new light upon landscape developments and changing lifestyles in the Mesolithic and late Palaeolithic. There is a clear need to identify, target, date and sample submarine palaeochannels, pre-inundation land surfaces, and intertidal and submarine peats, and to record and date the artefact assemblages retrieved mainly by dredging[60]. The potential of submerged landscapes along the North Sea coast is well illustrated by on-going investigations in the Humber Estuary[61] and by the results of recently published work to the north of our region in Hartlepool Bay[62]. Investigations in the latter area yielded charcoal residues suggesting clearance of reeds to encourage wildfowl, faunal remains and footprints indicating the presence of aurochs and red deer, and a small collection of lithic artefacts indicating sporadic Mesolithic activity. Coastal erosion may also reveal Mesolithic deposits of environmental and cultural value, in some cases well preserved beneath blown sand, and it is recommended that priority be accorded to the identification and targeted investigation of such sites.

Agenda topics addressed: 2.2.1; 2.2.2; 2.3.3; 2.6.1-2.6.3

SHAPE 2008: Understanding the impact of past climate change (11111.410); Understanding ancient environments and ecologies (11111.420); New frontiers: mapping our marine heritage (11112.110)

NHPP 2011: Unknown marine assets and landforms (3A1); Unknown coastal assets (3A2); Identification of wetland/waterlogged sites (3A5); Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeology (4G1); Submerged heritage assets and landscapes (4H1)

Other research frameworks:

Submerged channels recorded by seismic survey indicate extensive salt marshes that would have provided rich resources for Mesolithic communities (Gaffney, V et al 2009, Fig 3.31; reproduced by permission of the authors)
Image 6-2!a Submerged channels recorded by seismic survey
EH Research Strategy for Prehistory 2011: Theme PR1, Topic 8 (Submerged prehistoric landscapes); Theme PR6, Topic 30 (Human responses to environmental change in prehistory)
North Sea Prehistory Research and Management Framework, 28-31: Themes B, E, F and G.
Canti, M 2009 A Review of Geoarchaeology in the Midlands of England: Priority 3.2 (Marine sediments). London: English Heritage, 55
EH National Heritage Science Strategy Report 2 2009: Section 3.5.1 (Detecting and imaging).

References:

Image 6-1B The Pre-Anglian Bytham and Ancaster river systems

Image 6-1B The Pre-Anglian Bytham and Ancaster river systems

The impact of the dramatic rises in sea level that followed melting of the ice sheets that formed during the last glaciation (Devensian) is shown by these maps published in Bryony Coles` seminal study of Doggerland (Coles, B J 1998 `Doggerland: a speculative survey`. `Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society` 64, 45-81; reproduced by courtesy of Bryony Coles and the Prehistoric Society)


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This page (revision-26) was last changed on 22-Jun-2017 13:52 by Tina Roushannafas