Mesolithic evidence discovered at Star Carr

Mesolithic birch bark rolls
Mesolithic birch bark rolls

Written by Jeannie Swales

Monday is World Wetlands Day, and we’re lucky to have wetlands considered to be of international importance.

In the waterlogged area at the Scarborough end of the Vale of Pickering known as The Carrs is Star Carr, considered by many to be one of the finest Mesolithic sites in northern Europe.

Evidence of an early Mesolithic (that’s around 8,500 to 9,000 BC, or well over 10,000 years ago) community at Star Carr was first found in 1947 by a local amateur archeologist, John Moore, who spotted exposed flints in the soil. The site became known worldwide a couple of years later due to the excavation work from 1949 to 1951 of Professor Grahame Clark of Cambridge University.

His discoveries fundamentally changed our perceptions of the people of that time. It had previously been believed that the people of the era were essentially nomadic, always on the move to different places – Professor Clark’s work revealed that, while it may not have been a permanent settlement, Star Carr was probably occupied on a regular basis, with people returning year after year.

He uncovered evidence of a campsite probably inhabited by a small group of hunter-gatherers, including wooden platforms of interlocking twigs and branches, considered to be the earliest known examples of carpentry in Europe, and the remains of a wooden hut, the earliest so far discovered in England.

Flint ‘microliths’ (small tools characteristic of the period), barbed antler spearheads, a fragment of a wooden paddle, and, most notably, 21 ‘antler frontlets’ – headdresses, probably ceremonial, made from the skulls of red deer stags – were excavated.

He also discovered many small, tightly rolled, pieces of birch bark – you can see three of them in our picture (the string has, obviously, been added later, perhaps by Professor Clark and his team).

The purpose of the birch bark rolls is unclear. It’s been suggested that they may have been prepared as kindling for fires, tapers, or floats for fishing nets. Or perhaps they were rolled like this for storage before later use as a source of resin for gluing the microliths to wooden shafts to create arrows.

The birch bark rolls are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects that have been acquired by the borough over the years, now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on or (01723) 384510.