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Introduction to the course by Nicky Milner

This is a film by Professor Nicky Milner explaining what the course covers and explaining why learning about the past is important
Hello, and welcome to our course on the archaeological site of Star Carr. I’m Professor Nicky Milner and I’m the Head of Department of Archaeology at the University of York. I have been doing archaeology since I was 16 and the reason I love it is because we can make exciting new discoveries and add new knowledge to our understanding of the past. And the reason why learning about the past is important is that inventions, developments and decisions made in the past, has led to the world we know today. Star Carr is a Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age site, dating back about 11,000 years. It is famous worldwide in archaeology for the extremely rare and exciting discoveries that have been made there.
I co-directed the excavations at Star Carr from 2004-2015 and together with some of my team we will be sharing our exciting discoveries with you. This will include information on the excavations, the extremely rare artefacts we have uncovered, and the ways in which we can using cutting edge methods in science, digital technology and experimental archaeology to reconstruct what life was like in the Mesolithic. I’ll be catching up with you each week to summarise what topics we will be covering. We will use a variety of articles and films and you will have the chance to put forward your ideas too. I hope that this course will inspire you to get more involved with Archaeology in the future.
We look forward to learning with you over the next 4 weeks and we hope that you enjoy the course.

Each week we will be introducing you to a different aspect of the site in order to help you think about how people at that time would have lived. We will be using a range of methods such as scientific applications, digital technology and experimental archaeology to interrogate our data, and from this you will be encouraged to give your views on how things might have been used.

Week 1: Excavation background

In the first week we will begin by explaining what the Mesolithic period is and how people lived at that time. We will go on to provide a history of the previous excavations at Star Carr and then how our recent excavations produced more exciting discoveries. We will show you how excavations work and what happens on site, before explaining about how the site has deteriorated and how scientific techniques have been applied to understand why this has happened. We will explain how the site has been dated and how we know how old it is, and how we can tie that in with scientific studies of climate change at this time. Finally, through an amazing reconstruction, we will show you what we think life would have been like 11,000 years ago.

Week 2: Stone

This week we concentrate on stone. The use of stone tools is why we call this period the Stone Age. Stone tools were essential for survival – from chopping down trees to creating arrowheads for hunting and for carving up meat. We look at the sorts of tools people made, and how analysis under the microscope can help tell us more about what they were used for. We also look at beads made from shale and amber and the incredible discovery of an engraved pendant. Through digital technology we explore the artwork that was carefully inscribed on this pendant and consider what it might have meant to the people making it and wearing it. Finally, we examine other finds from northern Europe, consider the comparisons, and think about what connections there might have been across Europe at this time.

Week 3: Plants

Although plants are often invisible in the archaeological record, and therefore often forgotten about, they are actually incredibly important and contributed everything from food to the construction of houses and shelter. We explore how a humble fungus can be used to make fire, how we have uncovered some incredibly rare tools such as digging sticks and a bow, and we explore the mysterious wooden platforms which were built on the edge of the lake – the earliest form of carpentry in Europe! We also think about how a range of plants from wood to reeds would have been used to construct houses.

Week 4: Animals

In the final week we explore the range of animals which would have provided food and materials for the people living at Star Carr. Once animals had been used their bones were often deposited in the lake and we look at why this might have been the case. We look at barbed points which are made out of red deer antler and used for hunting and fishing. We also consider the enigmatic Star Carr antler frontlets. These are extremely rare – only a handful are known from the rest of Europe – and their function is debated. We will look at the ways in which we have analysed these artefacts using science, digital technology and experimental archaeology and we will consider how they might have been worn and used.

Other resources

Over the duration of the course, you might find that you want to know more. We have a range of extra resources to help you on your journey. The key ones are:

And there is also material on display in some museums:

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Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

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