Penny Spikins

Department of Archaeology, University of York, YO1 7EP

Cite this as: Spikins, P. 2007 Foreword, Internet Archaeology 22.

There is rather a special flavour to research into the Mesolithic period. Immersing ourselves in the study of dynamic, mobile communities facing ever changing environments, with interpretations resting on sparse, rather unimpressive evidence brings a certain sense of community to Mesolithic research. The 'Gathering our Thoughts' conference, in York in October 2006, arose from both this sense of community, and from within this a desire amongst postgraduate researchers to 'stand apart' from existing, sometimes traditional, approaches and say something distinctive about the period.

This series of papers arising from this conference presents, then, the 'postgraduate voice' on the Mesolithic. As such there is something unique here. The years spent in postgraduate research are rather special - it is here that there is time to get to the grips with issues, explore areas and really 'say something'. Thus the papers in this volume present not only a knowledgeable base but also a wonderfully lively 'punchy' approach to current issues in the Mesolithic, a credit both to the spirit of the researchers and the commitment of the conference organisers. The themes approached could hardly be more divergent - Cobb's discussion takes us through sensual and social approaches, such as the experience of landscape, the social context of production of artefacts and movement of material, Kador mobilises us (forgive the pun) to re-think mobility, Robinson takes a new approach to ethnographic analogy and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, whilst Fitch describes quite how we can use detailed seismic data to reconstruct Mesolithic landscapes in the drownded north sea and begin to reconstruct settlement, MacLaughlin describes the application of techniques of dental microwear to Mesolithic diets and Laurie the analysis of cockles in Mesolithic subsistence practices. Yet each brings something new and significant to the study of the Mesolithic.

It is perhaps because these researchers say something important without an overall theoretical agenda or attempt to sway the reader to a certain stance, that the volume gives us a wonderful and rather liberating chance to reflect on our own interests and research. Would a more sensuous approach benefit our own research? What potential lies in the submerged environment? How can structural approach to ethnographic analogy provide clues to the questions which we deal with in our own area or theme? Should we re-think our approaches to mobility? Could new analytical techniques, such as dental microwear or molluscan analysis contribute to our own sites or projects?

Whatever (if not all!) areas of research appeal, the most notable element is that there is a real sense of the 'positive' in Mesolithic studies. We all already know that the Mesolithic period has been marginalised since its first inception, that approaches appear to lag behind other periods almost to the extend of being culture historical or environmentally deterministic, and the period has, for a long, appeared to have 'little going for it'. In this volume a series of up and coming researchers are ready to put that behind at last, do something, bring new ideas and evidence to the period and create a lively dynamic forum of real debate.

I hope you enjoy these contributions as much as I have, and that this volume starts a new forum for further similar works and further lively postgraduate led discussions and debates in the discipline.

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