1. Introduction

Star Carr, in the Vale of Pickering, North-East Yorkshire, is an Early Mesolithic site of international renown. It was first excavated by Grahame Clark (1954) and it became important because the archaeology had been preserved in peat and therefore a large range of relatively well-preserved wood, bone and antler artefacts and ecofacts survived. These included the famous 21 red deer antler 'head-dresses', 191 antler barbed points and a birch brushwood platform on the edge of what would, at the time, have been a lake.

In 1985 further investigations took place at Star Carr under the auspices of the Vale of Pickering Research Trust (Mellars and Dark 1998). An 18 metre long by 2 metre wide trench was cut c. 25m to the east of Clark's excavations, during an intervention led by Tim Schadla-Hall and Paul Lane. The aim of the excavation was to focus on the stratigraphic and palaeoenvironmental aspects of the deposits and, although the trench was located far from the original excavations, it hit Early Mesolithic archaeology: flint scatters located on the dry land, faunal remains and a barbed point on the lake-edge, and with the exciting discovery of split timbers forming a possible platform or trackway into the lake. In 1989 the site was revisited and further recording and palaeoenvironmental work was carried out under the supervision of Paul Mellars (Mellars et al. 1998, 31). This included the removal of a one cubic metre block of sediment with the objective 'to develop techniques for the lifting of large, intact segments of the occupation deposits, to allow for finer-scale 'laboratory' excavation of the deposits than could ever be achieved under normal on-site excavation conditions' (Mellars 1998, 65).

Between 2003-2008 further fieldwork and excavations took place at Star Carr, under the aegis of the Vale of Pickering Research Trust, and directed by Nicky Milner, Barry Taylor and Chantal Conneller (Conneller 2007; Conneller et al. 2009a and 2009b; Last et al. 2009; Milner 2007; Milner et al. 2009; Taylor 2007). This work has included excavations on both the dry land and lake-edge areas and has demonstrated that the site is much larger than previously thought (Fig. 1). In addition there is now a better understanding of the dry land occupation including evidence of a posthole structure. Sadly, however, the work has revealed that the peat has turned very acidic at the level of the ancient lake shoreline and the organic remains are now in an extremely poor state of preservation (Milner 2007).

Figure 1
Figure 1: Map of the Star Carr site. Blue represents where the lake was and the green area represents dry land. Plan of trenches: the grey trenches were excavated by Clark (1949-1951); the blue trenches in the 1980s by the VPRT; the yellow dots are fieldwalking finds and the red trenches have been excavated during the recent work at Star Carr by the authors: all these trenches contained flint debris indicating activity over much of the peninsula.

During the 2007 excavations there was some debate between the site directors and Paul Mellars as to the best way to excavate a waterlogged site with such important and rare artefacts, and the issue of block lifting was raised by Mellars as a possible method. It was suggested that micro-excavation in the lab might produce components not previously found, such as fish bones, fragments of wood (bows, arrows, dug-out canoes), twisted fibres, netting or thongs. It was argued by the directors that flotation, which was being carried out on the site, would pick up these types of artefacts, and it was felt that excavation in the trench was being carried out carefully enough to encounter them as well. For instance, other sites such as that at North Wall Quay, Dublin, which yielded a fish trap (McQuade and O'Donnell 2007), have permitted recovery of such artefacts in the field. In addition, the cutting up of the sediment, even if it is very carefully controlled, would inevitably destroy some of the archaeology. However, in order to test the two methods side by side a c. 0.5m³ block was removed from site in four pieces (to test the effect of cutting on the archaeology) and transported to the archaeological laboratory in the Department of Archaeology, University of York, for excavation under controlled conditions.


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