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Excavating the wooden platforms

Three large timber platforms were found at the site. Here Mike Bamforth explains how they were excavated.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

We knew from the work in the 1980s that there was some sort of a wooden platform on the edge of the lake, made up of timbers. Timber is the term we use for larger pieces of wood such as tree trunks or big split planks. Because the previous trench was so small we had only seen a glimpse of these timbers but we knew that some were unconverted – large tree trunks that remained in the round but others had been split down into planks. Splitting is in an ancient woodworking technique that was used before the invention of saws where wood is split or ‘cleft’ open by hammering wedges into the wood to split it open lengthways. At Star Carr we have found evidence of the wooden wedges that were used for the splitting, although we have not discovered any wooden mallets that might have been used to hammer the wedges into the tree trunks.

We had to start by carefully excavating the peat in order to reveal the wooden remains hidden beneath the ground. This is slow work and as we started to see wood slowly emerging, we started to dig with wooden clay modelling tools. This is very slow work indeed but stops the wood from being damaged.

Over 11,000 years the wood has become very soft. Much of the cellulose has been leached away or broken down, leaving a lignin skeleton. The wood has become about 80% water and has been heavily compressed by the weight of the ground pushing down in it. Some tree trunks had been crushed nearly flat. The wood is very delicate and so we could not stand or lean on it and it is slow work balancing on planks to protect the wood. It also has to be kept wet – we used sprays to wet it down whilst working and covered the wood in tarpaulins when we were not working on it.

Over the last three years of excavation, we revealed three platforms, built parallel to the edge of the lake – one to the west of the site, one in the centre and one in the east. The most visible element of the platforms were the large tree trunks lying shoulder to shoulder with one another, and running parallel to the edge of the lake – some of them up to 4 metres long. In some places the main timbers of the platform were supported by split timbers and in other places by layers of brushwood. The largest timber platform was in the centre of the excavation and ran for 17 metres along the edge of the lake and was 6 metres wide.

The platforms would have allowed people to access the edge of the lake, stopping the build up of muddy ground that would otherwise occur from people climbing in and out of the lake. Perhaps they needed water for washing or cooking. They may even have fished from the platforms with bows like the one we excavated at the site.

Further resources

If you would like to find out more about the wooden structures, please look at Chapter 6 in our free, online book.

You can also explore a 3D model of a platform on the Archaeology Data Service.

© University of York
This article is from the free online

Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

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