Life, the Universe, MS & Me

I Have Other Facets
August 11, 2010, 7:21 pm
Filed under: life

Star Carr

I would once have called myself an archaeologist. So I thought I would write something towards that and Star Carr is on the news today. So I thought I would tell you about it. I’m not necessarily going to talk much about the current dig as it’s still ongoing and much of the most interesting scientific evidence has yet to have been collated.

Star Carr is in the vale of Pickering, East Yorkshire, it is a significant Mesolithic site that has always when investigated served to add greatly to our knowledge of that time.

The original excavations were carried out in the 1950’s by Grahame Clark and led to his seminal work Excavations at Star Carr. This work in the main concentrated on the faunal evidence available at the site. As in the Mesolithic era it was swamp and lake (now basically marsh land) the level of preservation of organic material is remarkable. This is what has made it such a fascinating resource.

The evidence in the form of faunal remains, including bones and antler, many of which show working, helps to identify the way the settlement was used and aspects of how they lived. Also because of the preservation conditions wood exists, particularly striking in the original excavation was a wooden walkway leading to a platform in the lake. There are curiosities to the remains. Whilst there is the standard use of deer and large mammals as a food source and the use of bones and antlers for tools and such, despite the fact that the settlement is on the edge of a freshwater lake and not far from the sea there is a curious lack of fish of molluscan remains. There is evidence though of the use of beaver as a food source.

Whilst it has been widely debated in archaeological circles about the nature of the settlement it is now generally thought that the site was mainly for seasonal use. It is speculated that whilst the majority of those who lived there would move on to other settlements there would have been a small core of people who remained year round for industrial purposes. This is because of evidence of skin working where the natural enzymes in the swamp edge would be used to help with the tanning process. In fact a roll of skin was found within an area penned in by wooden poles. This can only take place in summer as enzymes need to be of a certain temperature to work.

Now to return to the matter of the wooden platform out into the lake and the fact that there is no evidence of the use of fish. Now on first glance it ma appear that the platform would make a good place to land fish but as they are not used we have to look for another use for it. Yes there is the possibility of a boat landing stage and no doubt they would have used it for that, there is other evidence though. Past the end of the platform, on what would have been the lake bed, was a scatter of stone, bone and antler tools, the majority of which unused. These would have been votive offerings in a practice that started 11,000 years ago and is still prevalent in human societies. In fact, it is still common amongst people of even so-called ‘civilised’ societies although those that do it may not realise the origin of such a ritual (if you don’t believe me, consider that archaeologists, quite often amongst themselves, call it wishing well syndrome). This sort of ritual my also be, in half remembered medieval way, be where Excalibur and the lady of the lake comes from. Perhaps truth nuggets in old legends are for another time.

Now for the explanation of a lack of fish, both fresh and sea water, and of shellfish despite being surrounded by it. Sites of a similar age show the use of these fauna as a food source some quite spectacularly so. This does give a small window into the mind of this particular Mesolithic group, because if technology was not an issue and other ate it and knew it was safe what possible reason could there be. It seems then that a possible explanation would have to be that of a cultural taboo. There are plenty of perfectly nutritional things that are not eaten that are perfectly abundant that we don’t eat when you think about it. What makes this more curious is the eating of beaver, though to be honest beaver does spend some of its time on land. Whilst we can say that this does appear to be a taboo it is of course impossible to work out precisely why.

This is a bit of background and it is all from far ago memories from uni days so it’s a little bitty I’m afraid. the news from the latest dig can be found below but, bear in mind it is preliminary.

The latest release from the University of Manchester can be found in the link

and an article from The Independent

5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

What our ancestors didn’t like fish n chips .. They’re heathens… It was very interesting sweetie…or Time team woman I bet you look gorgeous with your trowel xxxx

Comment by Stefano3

Please don’t get me started on time team…..

Comment by helen1984

That’s really interesting Helen, and something I may follow up on if I get the time (I must admit I did snigger a bit at “the eating of beaver”). See you later on Twitter xxx

Comment by Annette


Comment by helen1984

would you expect anything less from me?

Comment by Annette

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