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ERC

POSTGLACIAL Report Summary

Project ID: 283938
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - POSTGLACIAL (After the Ice: Postglacial hunter-gatherer lifeways)

At the end of the Ice Age, over 12,000 years ago, Northern Europe was held in the grip of tundra-like conditions, but at around 9600 BC, within a matter of years, climate rose rapidly, resulting in the generation of birch woodland. We know little about the lives of our ancestors who lived during this postglacial period. They tend to be characterised as highly mobile, dispersed and living within small groups, and there is much debate as to how they adapted to global warming: did they move during periods of climatic change, or instead adapt to the new environmental conditions?

The principal aim of the project was: To implement an interdisciplinary, high-resolution approach to understanding hunter-gatherer lifeways within the context of climate and environment change during the early part of the postglacial period (c. 10,000-8000 BC). In order to achieve this we set out to examine the landscape around the Vale of Pickering (UK) and 1) examine climate change and environmental changes from sediments formed in a former lake, Lake Flixton; 2) carry out excavations on a Late Palaeolithic site on Flixton Island, 3) and carry out large scale excavations at the Early Mesolithic site of Star Carr.

The excavations at Flixton Island produced evidence for a long blade site and large scale butchery of horses on the edge of the lake. Due to the paucity of long blade sites, and especially those containing animal bones, this provides a rare glimpse into this period. the data also contributes to important questions pertaining to the recolonisation of Northern Europe and the extinction of horses, after the end of the Ice Age. In addition, these excavations revealed another Mesolithic flint scatter in close proximity to the long blade site, along with some organic preservation of bone which provides an insight into how people were using this island in different ways over time.

The excavations at Star Carr revealed some very important new insights into the site and more generally into Mesolithic lifeways at the start of the Holocene: 1) three wooden platforms and a ‘detritral wood scatter’ were found in the wetland. This is the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe and provides important insights into early woodworking techniques and the ways in which people were using the lake shore over time; 2) at least three structures on the dryland (the oldest known ‘houses’ in Britain) - through spatial analysis of the artefacts and ecofacts, we have been able to provide insights into activities in and around these structures; 3) new types of artefact for the site, including an engraved pendant (the earliest Mesolithic art in Britain).

This work has been put into the context of climate and environmental change through the examination of cores taken from the lake sediments which have been analysed using oxygen isotope analysis, geochronology, palaeoecology, and sedimentology. In addition, a high resolution radiocarbon dating programme has been carried out. We are now able to not only provide an important interpretation of human activity for a period of about 1000 years after the end of the last Ice Age, but we can also link this to climate.

Reported by

UNIVERSITY OF YORK
United Kingdom
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