Star Carr Early Mesolithic settlement site, 960m NNW of Woodhouse Farm

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1401425

Date first listed: 19-Dec-2011

Location Description: Centred at TA 02864 80976.

Map

Ordnance survey map of Star Carr Early Mesolithic settlement site, 960m NNW of Woodhouse Farm
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Location

Location Description: Centred at TA 02864 80976.

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Scarborough (District Authority)

Parish: Seamer

National Grid Reference: TA0286480994

Summary

Buried remains of an Early Mesolithic period site first identified by John Moore in 1947 and partially excavated by Sir Grahame Clark in 1949-51. Further archaeological investigations in the 1980s and in recent years have demonstrated in situ evidence of built structures.

Reasons for Designation

The Early Mesolithic period settlement site at Star Carr is of national importance and is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period and rarity: Star Carr is an exceptionally rare site because it has been positively dated to the Early Mesolithic and has also been shown to retain evidence of built structures.

* Diversity: Star Carr is exceptional for its great diversity of finds, archaeological features and evidence such as that demonstrating the use of stone tools for carpentry. This remains unequalled in British archaeology. The site was also clearly reoccupied a number of times, a form of diversity that is not often identified with Mesolithic period sites which are more typically the product of a single episode of occupation or activity.

* Documentation: The subject of a very large body of academic research papers and publications over the decades since first published by Clark and also very widely referenced in British and international archaeological textbooks. The good quality records and finds from previous investigations have allowed, and continue to allow, extensive reanalysis of Star Carr.

* Survival and Potential: Archaeological investigation has demonstrated that the monument retains a rich assemblage of inorganic material which is not threatened by changes in soil chemistry, also that there is a good potential for further evidence of built structures, especially across the largely unexcavated eastern part of the monument.

History

Radio carbon dating and other archaeological information indicates that Star Carr was occupied on a seasonal basis intermittently over about a couple of centuries around 9,000 cal BC (cal BC being years before the birth of Christ estimated via calibrated radio-carbon dating). This places Star Carr in the Early Mesolithic, the Mesolithic being the period between the end of the last glaciation and before the development of agriculture and permanent settlements. The archaeological site was first discovered by John Moore, in 1947, who identified a series of flints and faunal remains in spoil dredged from the Hertford River. This resulted in excavations by Sir Grahame Clark in 1949-51 and publication in 1954. Subsequent excavation in the 1980s by the Vale of Pickering Research Trust and, from 2002, by a joint venture from the Universities of York, Manchester, University College London and Cambridge has expanded understanding of the site.

Clark's excavation at Star Carr was remarkable for its wide range and large number of well preserved Early Mesolithic finds, The discovery was unprecedented at the time and has not been equalled since. This included well preserved organic material such as antler frontlets (modified deer skulls with attached antlers interpreted as headdresses), barbed points made from antler, as well as what Clark identified as a platform made out of 'brushwood' (later suggested to have been principally a natural accumulation of flotsam on the lake). Excavations in the 1980s by the Vale of Pickering Research Trust identified parts of a deliberately constructed timber platform with clear evidence of carpentry using stone tools, representing the earliest known example of carpentry in Europe. Excavations have generally focused on waterlogged deposits in the western part of the monument. Further excavations in 2007 revealed that a similar platform made of hewn and split timbers was located near to Clark's original trench, and excavations in 2010 suggest the worked wood extends across an area of at least 30 metres of lakeshore as well as demonstrating the remarkable in situ survival of a large birch tree trunk first uncovered by Clark in 1949-51.

In 2008, excavation just to the north east of the platform found in the 1980s, identified a further structure some 5-6m in diameter defined by scatters of flintwork and a hollow surrounded by post settings. This structure, which has been interpreted as a hut, is sited on higher ground than the platform, on the western side of what would have been a peninsula of dry land extending south eastwards into the lake, but which now appears as an area of slightly higher ground in the modern field. Field walking and test pitting across this area has demonstrated the extensive survival of further in situ material, mainly flintwork, also dated to the Early Mesolithic. This shows that the monument extends across an area at least 150m to the east of that excavated in 1949-51. Test pits were too small to identify structures, but several revealed good survival of in situ Mesolithic material undisturbed by modern ploughing, with the range of flintwork similar to that found associated with the structure excavated in 2008 in the western part of the monument.

For many years Star Carr was seen as a seasonally occupied base camp used by hunters mainly exploiting red deer (the Mesolithic being the period before the development of agriculture and characterised by nomadic people subsisting by hunting and gathering). Excavations at Star Carr produced good evidence for the production of barbed points, presumably used to tip hunting spears, mattocks made of antler, stone axes or beads made from shale, animal teeth or amber and 21 antler frontlets interpreted as headdresses. The variety and survival of organic material is not found on any other Mesolithic site in Britain and the antler frontlets have only three parallels, all from separate sites on the continent. The timber platform identified in the 1980s is the earliest example of carpentry known in Europe. As a result, the site is highlighted in nearly all text books on prehistoric archaeology and has been the subject of large numbers of academic research papers and reinterpretations. Information from Star Carr has not only been used to develop an understanding of the Mesolithic, but has also contributed to the development of new approaches within the academic discipline of prehistoric archaeology as a whole.

Recent investigations have demonstrated that, in general, the monument's surviving, in situ, organic material has seriously decayed since Clark's excavations, and may indeed completely decay within the next few years. This has been attributed to the lowering of the water table and the resultant changes in soil chemistry. However, notwithstanding the survival of organic remains, Star Carr will still retain significant archaeological information in the form of inorganic remains such as stone tools and other lithic material, along with evidence of structures in the form of postholes and stone settings. This material is particularly to be found on the higher ground of the eastern part of the monument, the former dry land part of the site. This area of the monument has not been so intensively investigated as that of the former waterlogged deposits, but is probably where much of the activity took place during occupation in the Mesolithic such as sleeping and cooking.

Details

The monument includes the buried remains of an Early Mesolithic period settlement site on the edge of the former Lake Flixton which, in the Mesolithic period, was nearly 5km by 2km, mainly extending to the east of Star Carr. The extent of the monument has been defined by field walking and test excavation; it lies on the south side of the Hertford River, but does not extend to include further Mesolithic sites that have been identified elsewhere along the former lake edge. The monument includes an area which, in the Mesolithic period, was a peninsula of dry land that extended southwards into Lake Flixton and can now be seen as a rise in the ground surface. The structure uncovered in 2008 (see History) lies on the western side of this peninsular with field walking and test pitting indicating the in situ survival of further features across the rest of the former peninsular. The scheduling also includes a strip of the Mesolithic lake edge, including the areas previously excavated and shown to retain both organic and inorganic archaeological material, including structural remains.

Extent of Scheduling: The scheduling is designed to include all of the known Mesolithic period remains within the field containing Clark's excavation at Star Carr, together with an additional margin of a minimum of 5m considered essential for the support and protection of the monument. This margin is also designed to take into account possible inaccuracies in the location of find spots and previous excavation trenches. The monument covers a triangular area forming the north eastern corner of the field. This area is defined by using data collated by Dr Nicky Milner, Dr Chantal Conneller and Barry Taylor plotting the Mesolithic land surface, and is designed to include everything within 30m (on the southern side) of the 23.75m Mesolithic surface contour that lies south of the cut for the Hertford River and west of the drainage ditch which marks the eastern boundary of the field. The area includes the easement on the south side of the Hertford and thus the modern fence line, which marks the property boundary between the Drainage Board's easement and the field. The fence is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

The canalised Hertford River has truncated the monument to the north. It is possible that further in situ Mesolithic remains survive immediately to the north, obscured by upcast from dredging operations; however, there is currently insufficient evidence of surviving Mesolithic deposits to justify including any area to the north of the Hertford within the scheduling.

Sources

Books and journals
Clark, J G D, Excavations at Star Carr, (1954)
Mellars, P, Dark, P, Star Carr in Context, (1998)
Conneller, C, Milner, N, Taylor, B, 'British Archaeology' in Little House By The Shore, , Vol. 115, (2010)
Conneller, C, Milner, N, Schadla-Hall, T, Taylor, B, 'From Bann Flakes to Bushmills: Prehistoric Society research paper, no.1' in Star Carr In The New Millennium, (2009), 78-88
Mellars, P, 'Antiquity' in Moonshine Over Star Carr: Post-Processualism, Mesolithic Myths And Archaeological Realities, , Vol. 83, (2009), 502-517
Other
Schadla-Hall, T & Lane, P (eds), The Early Mesolithic in the Vale of Pickering, Forthcoming,

End of official listing