7. The Biography of the Pendant

The pendant has been crafted out of a piece of shale, probably utilising the natural form of the pebble, as opposed to being worked into its current shape. No manufacturing traces were visible on the surface or edges, but given the post-depositional surface modification discussed earlier, these may no longer be visible. Pieces of shale of varying shapes are found locally both at the coast and closer to the lake eroding out of the underlying glacial till in ditches and river banks. There is of course the possibility that the shale pendant was brought to Star Carr from further afield.

One of the unresolved questions concerns the precise point at which the perforation was made: was it the first modification to this piece of shale or one of the last? The argument for the first phase comes from the logic that the artwork respects the placing of the hole and that a hole is likely to have been made first because of the possibility of breaking the object during the perforation process.

There is tentative evidence that the pendant was used; however, the microwear evidence is inconclusive, though a slightly brighter area on the vertex may be indicative of it having been strung. We cannot rule out that this pendant was worn, but either for such a short duration of time that no wear traces developed, or that they have since been obscured by post-depositional surface modification. The lines themselves are very faint and there is no evidence that they were accentuated with colour. This may indicate that the engravings were not intended to be clearly visible.

The engravings suggest two possible phases with two different types of markings. It is impossible to say how long the process of engraving took and how many people may have added to it. There could, for example, be at least two hands at work producing the two distinctive sets of lines: maybe members of the same social group, maybe friends, or maybe even different members of the same family. Similarly, what these lines mean is open to speculation. Different interpretations from those who have seen it have included a tree, a map, a leaf, tally marks, even a representation of the wooden platforms which have been found at Star Carr. Why this particular piece of shale was decorated in the first place is also an interesting question when other stone beads at Star Carr and more broadly across Britain are not decorated.

The other noteworthy mark on the artefact is the nick on the non-engraved side. There is no visible evidence for how it was made, though it must have been made by some form of percussion (Peter Rawson personal communication 2015), either accidental damage, or perhaps deliberately damaged prior to deposition in this context (Toft and Brinch Petersen 2016). However, it may also date to before the raw piece of shale was collected and turned into a pendant. It is likely that the nick was made before or at the moment that the pendant was deposited in the lake edge deposits, evidenced by the clustering of iron pyrite which has probably accumulated within this feature since deposition into the peat.

Finally, it is impossible to say who made, possibly wore, then deposited this pendant. It is noteworthy that it comes from an atypical context that has produced significant numbers of antler frontlets, also termed headdresses, interpreted to have been used by shamans. One possibility is that this pendant was also part of ritual paraphernalia used by a shaman, or considered to be some sort of amulet (e.g. Clark 1936; Vang Petersen 2016). It is also possible that it was deposited intentionally into the lake as a way of ending its use life, as has been suggested for Danish pendants (Toft 2009; Vang Petersen 2016).