1. Introduction

During the 2015 excavation season at Star Carr (Figure 1), a shale pendant with lines engraved into it was found in the lake edge deposits. When the artefact was first uncovered it was thought to be a natural piece of stone: the perforation was full of sediment and the engravings were not visible. On lifting, the sediment fell away from the hole and, on closer inspection, faint engravings became visible on one side.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Photograph of the pendant showing the faint engravings

Although shale beads, a piece of perforated amber, bird bone and two perforated animal teeth have been recovered from Star Carr (Clark 1954; Milner et al. 2013a), this latest discovery represents the first perforated artefact with an engraved design. The art is typical for this period, in its geometric design associated with small portable objects (Płonka 2003). Other pendants are known from northern Europe, in particular, Denmark (Fischer and Vang Petersen forthcoming ; Toft and Brinch Petersen 2016; Vang Petersen 2016), but an engraved pendant is unique for Britain. Furthermore, to our knowledge, no other Mesolithic engraved pendants from Europe are made of shale: the predominant material used being amber, antler and bone (Andersen 2001; Gramsch 2014); however, an engraved stone pendant has been found from Brunstad, Norway (Schülke 2015).

Grahame Clark, the original excavator at Star Carr (Clark 1954), did not find any engravings like this at the site. He was, however, an expert on the art found in Europe and wrote a comprehensive chapter on the art of the Maglemose culture (the Early Mesolithic) in his book on the Mesolithic settlement of Northern Europe (Clark 1936). It is therefore unfortunate that the engraved pendant was found less than a metre from the end of Clark's Cutting II (Figure 2) and that he did not have the chance to study this piece. The area where the pendant was discovered is where Clark found a large quantity of bone, antler and wood, including rare artefacts such as 21 headdresses made from red deer skulls and 191 antler barbed points; the pendant appears to be from the same detrital muds and is therefore broadly associated with these other finds (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2: Location of the find. The detail of Clark's excavations is taken from the plan as published in the 1954 monograph with details of the birch tree and 'birch brushwood platform' associated with a large quantity of bone, antler and flint. The gap in Clark's plan of the brushwood is an area that was not planned but which also contained these finds and, similarly, much of the rest of Clark's excavation produced large quantities of material but plans for this area do not exist

The small size of the pendant and the faint nature of the artwork necessitated the application of a range of techniques in order to gain high resolution imaging for a better understanding of the creation of the lines: Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), white light 3D scanning, light microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The pendant has been examined under low and high power microscopes for use-wear traces that might indicate whether it had been strung or used. It has also been suggested by Clark (1936, 162, footnote 1) that patterns on such objects may have been made visible by rubbing in a darker substance 'as is done by Esquimaux in rather similar incised bone-work' and it has been noted that black birch bark pitch was used to infill the designs of the Danish amber pendants (Toft and Brinch Petersen 2016; Vang Petersen 2016), as well as antler and bone (Malmer and Magnusson 1955). Therefore, we have examined the artefact for in situ organic residues using reflected light microscopy and Micro-Raman spectroscopy.

This article presents the results of these investigations and places the pendant into the wider context of European Mesolithic portable artwork. Finally, we examine our data in order to produce a biographical account of the uselife of this object which saw it being deposited, perhaps ritually, in the water at the lake edge.