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York archaeologists publish paper on Early Mesolithic mortuary rites

Posted on 28 October 2016

Burial practices in Hermitage, Ireland were studied

A team of archaeologists have published a paper revealing glimpses of the belief systems of early Mesolithic hunter-gathererers.

The team, led by Dr. Aimée Little, analysed cremated remains dating from 7530-7320 BC—the earliest recorded human burial and grave assemblage. Unusually for such an early burial, the person's body had been cremated and then buried, rather than a more simple form of inhumation.

The site also featured evidence for a grave-marker; a post which would have marked the spot at which the cremated remains were buried long after the event itself.

A highly polished stone adze interred with the remains, thought to represent the earliest polished adze or axe in Europe, was revealed to have been commissioned for burial at the site. Microscopic analysis demonstrated a short duration of use, indicating its purpose was for funerary rites. Intentional blunting of the tool, through a short episode of woodworking, was thought to be analagous to the end of the life of the owner.


Microwear traces on the polished stone adze.


The rarity of these attributes, both indivudually and in combination with each other, mark Hermitage out as an exeptionally important site for the Early Prehistory of North West Europe.

Dr Ben Elliott, of the University of York, said: "The adze is exceptional as we traditionally associate this polished axes and adzes like this with the arrival of agriculture in Europe, around 3000 years later. Although polished axes and adzes are known from pre-agricultural sites in Ireland and other parts of Europe, to find such a well-made, highly polished and securely dated example is unprecedented for this period of prehistory."


Read the full article at the Cambridge Archaeological Journal: DOI: