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The Star attraction: new book reveals detailed picture of Stone Age Britain

Posted on 16 April 2018

The archaeological team that found Britain’s earliest house have today announced that at least two more houses have been found at the site. These houses have now been radiocarbon dated to at least 8,900 BC, several centuries earlier than previously thought.


Antler frontlet and pendant illustrations. Credit: Chloe Watson

This is one of the many highlights of a new book focusing on some of the most significant discoveries from a major archaeological dig at the world-famous Middle Stone Age site – Star Carr – which has been published today.
The book includes new revelations about the lives of the people who lived on the site in North Yorkshire from around 9000 BC, including previously unpublished evidence of rituals, feasting, jewellery making, communal building activities and the manufacture of tools.

Published by White Rose University Press, and funded by Historic England, the book will be available in printed and digital formats. The free online version offers embedded videos and a rotatable 3D image of an antler headdress thought to be used by shamans in ritual practices.

Ancient people

Co-author of the book, Professor Nicky Milner, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “Our project at Star Carr has prompted interest from all over the world so we are thrilled to finally share our remarkable discoveries preserved in layers of peat at this incredibly rare site. The digital version in particular really brings the findings to life through photos and video, and allows us to share the state-of-the-art scientific techniques employed to interpret and reconstruct the lives of these ancient people.”

Our ancestors at Star Carr would have been among the first settlers returning to Britain after the glaciers of the Ice Age had retreated.

The book confirms that the site was occupied, sometimes very intensely, over a period of 800 years. Not only were several house structures discovered, but large timber platforms were erected along the shores of the extensive lake that once covered part of the site. These were used to access the lake both for practical and ritual activities. The carpentry work uncovered is so substantial that authors of the book believe they may be the result of communal building activities, where several groups might have united for building and seasonal celebrations.

Other star finds reported in the book include artefacts of cultural significance such as shale beads, antler headdresses, one of Britain’s earliest dogs and the remains of at least two butchered red deer that have been arranged to create the form of a single animal.

Culturally sophisticated

Co-author of the book, Dr Chantal Conneller from Newcastle University, said: “The book pulls together all the new evidence from Star Carr into a single source. The previously unpublished highlights are extremely exciting and change our perception of the complex and culturally sophisticated lives of these hunter gatherers. Though these groups moved into an empty landscape, this place quickly became their home as well as representing an important ritual focus.”

Star Carr was discovered in the late 1940’s and the book updates knowledge of the site with findings from the most recent excavations which took place from 2003- 2015 to explore how it was used by ancient people in depth.
The excavations were carried out by an award-winning team of archaeologists led by Prof Milner, Dr Conneller and Dr Barry Taylor.
Dr Taylor, co-author of the book from the University of Chester, said: “We are delighted that our findings have been made accessible to a wide range of audiences in a way that means the work can be read by anyone with an internet connection with no paywall barrier”.

The work, which is published in two volumes, is the first monograph to be published by White Rose University Press, an academic publisher supported by the Universities of York, Leeds and Sheffield.
Kate Petherbridge, Press Manager at White Rose University Press, said: “We are very pleased to publish this prestigious work. It’s wonderful that we can make the team’s ground-breaking research available to the academic community and wider public.”

Star Carr is available to read and download via: https://doi.org/10.22599/book1 and https://doi.org/10.22599/book2 .

More information about Star Carr is available from: http://www.starcarr.com.

The digital archive of the project has also been made available for free via The Archaeology Data Service, also funded by Historic England, allowing people to examine the data and records for themselves: https://doi.org/10.5284/1041580

The ADS is the only accredited digital repository for archaeological data in the UK with over 20 years of experience preserving digital data.

Professor Julian Richards, Director of the Archaeology Data Service, said: "The Star Carr Digital Archive will be an immensely valuable resource for the public understanding of our shared heritage. Publishing the data freely and openly alongside the monograph allows the public to, explore the raw findings, assess the interpretations presented in the publication, and re-use this incredible data set".

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About this research

This book is co-authored by Professor Nicky Milner, from the Department of Archaeology. It is published by White Rose University Press and funded by Historic England.