1.3 Modelling residue diagenesis

In order to model the diagenesis processes at Star Carr as closely as possible, the experimental tools used in this study were buried at the level of the archaeological deposits in two different areas of interest. The first area was the dry land where there is evidence for everyday occupation in the form of structures and debris; this is a slightly acidic clay-rich soil (~pH 6.4). Some bone and antler artefacts have survived in this part of the site, but no plant material has been recovered. The second area chosen for the burial experiment was the waterlogged lake edge zone where wooden platforms were built and artefacts and ecofacts were deposited; here the soil is highly acidic organic peat (~pH 3.3).

As a control, a third set of residue-containing flakes were buried in a nearby non-archaeological location on the Yorkshire Wolds at Manor Farm in Thixendale. This location was chosen as the burial location for the control group because its alkaline soil (~pH 8.4) contrasts with the acidic soils found at Star Carr. The location of the three burial units is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Location of burial units 1 and 2 at Star Carr and unit 3 at Manor Farm in Yorkshire, UK. © Crown Copyright and Database Right April 2016. Ordnance Survey (Digimap Licence)

Experimental archaeology uses analogical reasoning to understand past human behaviours and processes. Of course, the degraded residues generated in our experiment after burial and those from an archaeological context can never be perfectly comparable since identical replication of an archaeological scenario is impossible. However, just as the concept of uniformitarianism is used to understand geologic and taphonomic phenomena that occurred deep in the past, we can infer that a basic level of comparability between experimental and archaeological residues is possible, since many of the general soil processes that are in effect today, such as oxidation, water movement, and microbial breakdown of residues, also operated in the Mesolithic. Given the documented changes in soils at Star Carr historically (outlined in section 1.2), one might question the comparability of modern experimentally buried residues with archaeological residues. It is argued here that despite the fact the archaeology-containing soils have become drier over the past several decades, the experimental residues still experienced the same current soil regime as the archaeological residues.


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