The early Mesolithic is a key time in British prehistory. During the preceding Upper Palaeolithic period – when sea-level was lower – Britain was a marginal upland area of north-west Europe. Occupation was climate-dependent, usually relatively fleeting, with human groups often operating at the margins of their ranges. The Mesolithic by contrast represents the start of the continuous occupation of the British Isles. This process saw colonisation by groups moving along river systems in the south and along the coast in the north (Conneller and Higham 2015), and, over time, the gradual infilling of the British landscape. Places gained meaning and histories for the first time, and particular places were marked out as important, with evidence for long-term occupation seemingly from the very start of the period (Conneller et al. 2012).
However, our understanding of the detail of these processes is currently extremely limited, owing to poor chronological resolution for the period. Several researchers (e.g. Spikins 1999; Reynier 2005; Waddington 2015) have linked changing settlement patterns over the course of the Mesolithic with environmental change, for example, yet the current poor temporal resolution of both sets of data raise problems of 'suck in' and 'smear' (Baillie 1991). Dating of the early Mesolithic period in particular is crucial for understanding processes of colonisation and infilling of the British landscape, yet there is a paucity of precise and reliable radiocarbon measurements and these are mostly associated with only a few key sites. The impetus for this article stems from a new programme of radiocarbon dating and Bayesian chronological modelling for Mesolithic activity at Star Carr, North Yorkshire (Milner et al. in press, chapters 3 and 17). This new analysis makes Star Carr the best-dated Mesolithic site in Europe, but the level of detail revealed throws into stark relief our lack of knowledge of the chronology of the remainder of the early Mesolithic across Britain.
In this article we formally model the chronologies of chipped stone assemblage types from the early Mesolithic, using the corpus of legacy radiocarbon dates and the same rigorous suite of scientific, statistical, and archaeological criteria for assessing the scientific reliability and robustness of archaeological association that we have employed in the analysis of the new dataset from Star Carr. This attempts to refine our understanding of early Mesolithic typochronologies, as a first step towards a greater understanding of the process of the settlement of the British Isles.
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