New research analysing palaeoclimate data in conjunction with archaeological findings has provided evidence for how resilient the community of Star Carr – the famous Mesolithic occupation site in North Yorkshire (CA 282) – was in the face of extreme climate change.
Abrupt Climatic Events (or ACEs), resulting in extremely low average temperatures that last for several generations, are known to have periodically struck Europe during the Mesolithic period. It has been suggested that these events may have greatly affected the hunter-gatherer communities of Europe but, as archaeological sites from this period are relatively scarce, few studies have addressed the theory. To correct this deficiency, a research team from institutions across the UK has analysed two cores taken from the Flixton palaeolake, next to which Star Carr is found, and compared the environmental evidence they provided with the archaeology of the site.
The core data identified two ACEs that coincided with archaeological activity at Star Carr: one 11,400 years ago, the other 11,100 years ago. Both appear to have been similar in duration and intensity. Looking at the archaeological record during these periods, results show that during the first ACE, which coincides with the earliest evidence for occupation, activity was muted and inconsistent, possibly suggesting that the climate may have delayed more intensive use of the site. During the second ACE, however, the evidence shows no gap in the use of the site and that types of activity remain relatively similar before and during this colder period.
After the second ACE, however, changes are noted, with the Star Carr population building at least three substantial wooden platforms along the edges of the lake (pictured above); this coincides with the lake becoming shallower and swampier. The residents then abandoned these platforms and only sporadic activity is seen thereafter – a shift that seems to occur when the swampy environment gave way to a fen carr setting.
Taken together, the results indicate that, while the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers at Star Carr managed to eke out a living during abrupt macrochanges in climate, seemingly taking it in their stride, they were more affected by microchanges to the ecology of their local landscape.
This article appeared in CA 339.