Vale of Pickering and Star Carr

Report on our meeting held 7th March 2016

Prior Rick Hudson welcomed members. He then introduced the speaker, Tim Shardler Hall. Tim has investigated the archaeology of the Vale of Pickering for over 25 years and has excavated at Star Carr.  He is Reader in Public Archaeology at University College London.

Tim said that Star Carr and the rest of the Vale of Pickering was an important area of human settlement 10,000 years ago just after the last ice age, and that the preserving wet ground conditions make this area the most important British site for archaeologists studying the mesolithic period, roughly 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.  He explained that after the ice age the climate suddenly warmed and pollen finds at Star Carr have plotted the change in tree varieties. Also, sea levels rose and flooded much of the North Sea area, which at the time was land we have named Doggerland. Tim showed that we have seen a number of smaller sudden swings in climate ever since.

The Star Carr site was first excavated in 1948 by John Moore, an amateur archaeologist from Scarborough.  Tim said the results encouraged his early mentor J G Clark to carry out a more widespread professional dig in the early 1950’s. The finds made at that time supplied research matter for many years to come. Tim himself dug nearby in the 1970’s. His dig was rescue archaeology before some land was used as a refuse landfill site. The Vale of Pickering Research Trust funded further work after 1985, and in the 2000’s until last year York University have excavated, courtesy of an EU grant.

The finds have been very exciting and well preserved, although drainage causing the drying out of the peat is destroying remains. These early stone age people were not hunter gatherers as had been previously assumed.  Evidence of farming, animal husbandry and even small houses has been found. Sites of occupation seem to be on the edge of ancient Lake Flixton which has now been defined. Extensive timber rafts made of shaped planks on the lake side may have been for beaching boats.  Tim believes that, with such woodworking skills and by comparisons with similar primitive civilisations, their houses were probably much larger, and hence more comfortable, than present thinking assumes.  We just haven’t found them yet.  He feels the areas of occupation extended far beyond Star Carr. Tim suggests the early stone age might more reasonably be called the Wood Age.

Tim regards the most iconic finds as the headdresses with antlers made from deer skulls. Twelve have been found.  Lots of pierced beads have also been found. Recently a larger pierced stone pendant was discovered with enigmatic markings which seem to be more than just decoration.  Many pieces of barbed bone and antler “harpoons” have also been recovered.

The vote of thanks was given by Maureen Bell.  She said she had been looking forward to this presentation since she first saw it on the Augustinian syllabus, and was not disappointed. She thanked the speaker for an informative and fascinating talk with excellent photographs, all delivered with a sense of humour.