3.4 Description of the burial conditions

3.4.1 Soils in burial units

Star Carr unit 1: slightly acidic dry land

At Star Carr, a numbered system that designates the characteristics of each soil layer is referred to as a context. Unit 1 was excavated in archaeological context (308): a heavy grey clay with orange mottling. This is a layer of glacial till with cultural material incorporated, both flint and highly degraded bone. This context layer is located several metres from the edge of a palaeolake (Lake Flixton) at Star Carr, on the dry land and is above the water-table. The base of the 1m x 1m unit was very high in clay, with small flecks of peat observed mostly in the northern half of the unit. Plant organics were minimal. Beetles, ants, spiders, centipedes, worms, land snails, and slugs were found in the unit. Soils analysis has shown this context is heavily bioturbated by worms, moles, and roots. Mesolithic bone and antler survives in this layer on the dry land in a poorly preserved, fragmentary state.

Star Carr unit 2: acidic wetland

This unit was excavated in a waterlogged archaeological context layer (312), which is composed of a coarse dark green reed peat, with fragments of reed leaves visible within the matrix. This context layer also contains seeds of bogbean Menyanthes trifoliate, fruits of the pondweed Potamogeton sp. and arboreal bud scales. The proportion of fine-grained organic material increases towards the base of the deposit. The deposition of context (312) began to form in a permanently submerged swamp, becoming seasonally submerged later as the deposit formed vertically. Today, context (312) is periodically below the water-table and is subject to fluctuations in the water-table. This unit contained no macroscopically visible biological activity either during initial excavation or at the recovery point. More generally, from other parts of the site, we know that this archaeological context layer contains flint, bones, wood and antler. The organic artefacts have survived due to anaerobic conditions.

Manor Farm unit 3: slightly alkaline

The off-site control unit in Thixendale, North Yorkshire, contains calcareous soil that is very stony, loose, and uncompacted. The quantity of plant organics noted in the soil was not high, although many living hawthorn roots and weeds were present. The soil was biologically active, with worms, snails, ants, beetles, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, and insect tunnelling observed.

3.4.2 Temperature and precipitation

The National Meteorological Archive of the UK Met Office was consulted to obtain precipitation and temperature data relevant to the burial units for the duration of the experiment. Precipitation and temperature information was not collected within the burial environment itself. It is assumed that ambient weather conditions at the nearest weather stations provide a reasonable indication of the conditions the flakes were exposed to during the course of the experiment.

The temperature and precipitation data recorded at the nearest observation station at Scarborough, 9km away from burial units 1 and 2 at Star Carr, is presented in Figure 5. The units at Star Carr were exposed to approximately 75.8mm of rainfall between the time of burial and the time of first recovery of groups 1 and 3 following the first month of the experiment. The average temperature the flakes in groups 1 and 3 experienced during that same 1 month period was 13.5°C. The average air temperature for groups 2 and 4 that were buried for 11 months was 9.8°C and the total amount of rainfall that fell during that time was 549.0mm.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Star Carr units 1 and 2 average monthly temperature and precipitation

The nearest weather observation station to burial unit 3 at Manor Farm was at High Mowthorpe, 8.5km away. As with units 1 and 2 at Star Carr, the temperature and precipitation conditions that occurred at the Mowthorpe observation station during the course of the experiment are presumed to be similar to those at unit 3, and are presented in Figure 6. From the time of burial to the recovery of the group 5 flakes after the first month, the total rainfall recorded at the station was 102.0mm and the average air temperature was 13.3°C. The average air temperature at unit 3 for the group 6 flakes buried for 11 months was 9.4°C and total rainfall was 650.8mm.

Figure 6
Figure 6: Manor Farm unit 3 average monthly temperature and precipitation


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