Colour photograph showing lots of archaeologists digging in a trench with spoilheaps behind; some timbers are visible left
Excavations of Mesolithic lake-edge activity at Star Carr, North Yorkshire © Historic England and York University: Photo by J Last
Excavations of Mesolithic lake-edge activity at Star Carr, North Yorkshire © Historic England and York University: Photo by J Last

Understanding Mesolithic Settlement and Environments

The most significant areas for early Holocene archaeology in England are those landscapes where settlement material may be directly associated with palaeoenvironmental evidence.

Star Carr

Probably the best known is the site of Star Carr in North Yorkshire, where excavation, supported by Historic England, that was necessitated by the drying out of archaeological deposits, has led to a totally new understanding of the site, as set out in a major new report.

The Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of the Middle Kennet Valley

The Kennet Valley in Berkshire contains one of the most important concentrations of Final Upper Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic hunter-gatherer sites in Britain, associated with a high-quality palaeoenvironmental record.

But it is also an area of high development pressure, so protecting this resource requires better understanding of where buried land-surfaces and remains of these periods are likely to survive.

The project, which was managed by Wessex Archaeology, compiled a comprehensive database of archaeological, sedimentary, palaeoenvironmental and chronological data and produced a predictive model of where archaeologically rich deposits might be found. The model was tested and refined by targeted field investigations and dating at Thatcham and Victoria Park, Newbury, alongside case studies at Ufton Bridge and geoarchaeological investigations at Wawcott. A leaflet was produced for development control, providing guidance on methodologies and approaches, based on the results of the model.

Download the report on the Middle Kennet Valley.

The Mesolithic of the Somerset Levels

The Somerset Levels is one of England’s largest lowland wetland areas and has great potential for the preservation of well-stratified prehistoric sites and palaeoenvironmental remains. Until now, however, the Mesolithic archaeology of the area has received little attention except from those studying lithic artefacts.

This project, carried out by Reading University, carried out small-scale investigations at three key sites. The aims were to integrate evidence from boreholes, geophysics, test pits and radiocarbon dating in order to model the sedimentary sequence and establish whether occupation horizons and peats of Mesolithic date are preserved.

Alongside this, palaeoenvironmental studies of animal and plant remains and sediments aimed to show the changing character of the wetlands beside the sites and look for evidence of Mesolithic communities’ impact on their environment.

Land-use on the Levels is changing in various ways and the study identifies potential threats to the Mesolithic resource and makes recommendations for its future management. The results will also be used to develop a methodology for investigation which can be applied elsewhere.

Download the report on the Mesolithic in the Somerset Levels

Environmental change and human activities at the dryland-wetland interface

Historic England supported a PhD project at Reading University which aimed to improve understanding of the landscape setting of Mesolithic sites in Surrey and of the context of human activities by looking at small wetland areas such as pingos and valley mires.

The research compiled a fully integrated archaeological and palaeoenvironmental database permitting analysis of spatial and temporal relationships using GIS, while field investigations collected samples for laboratory analysis from wetlands adjacent to key Mesolithic sites.

Access the PhD thesis

North-East Yorkshire Mesolithic Project

Mesolithic flint tools are common in the upland landscape of the North York Moors and the adjacent Tees valley lowlands, but many collections were poorly documented.

This project aimed to improve knowledge and management of the Mesolithic archaeology of the region through re-examination of existing data as well as fieldwork to to provide new archaeological evidence, radiocarbon dates and palaeoenvironmental information.

A phased programme of research was carried out by Tees Archaeology in partnership with the North York Moors National Park Authority. More information about the project, which was completed in 2014, can be found on the Tees Archaeology website.