ICE AND FIRE | Managing a 420 Kilometre Trench?

ICE AND FIRE is a Heritage Lottery funded community rescue archaeology project on Teesside, North-east England. The project is designed to explore and record prehistoric archaeology at risk in fire-damaged, eroding areas where artefacts have been found on the surface.

The Eston Hills, an outlier of the North York Moors sitting above the urban and industrial sprawl of Teesside, dominate today’s landscape of the Tees estuary and the rugged, beautiful coastline in this part of the country. The community moors, wetlands and woodlands are a fragile wildlife haven that also bear testament to millennia of human activity since the last Ice Age, over 12,000 years ago.

I’m Spencer Carter, @microburin on Twitter, a freelance commercial and community archaeologist with a particular interest in the Mesolithic period from around 9000 BC and the fascinating transition to the first farmers and monument builders of the Neolithic in the decades around 3900-3800 BC in our area. I have been part of the project team in designing the scope and priorities, as well as managing the project’s website and regular news bulletins.  I’m also a prehistoric stone tools specialist – mostly flint here – and I’ll be analysing the exciting finds in the coming few weeks. We also have features!


Yet recent years have seen a rapid increase in vandalism, arson, illegal off-roaders and anti-social activities which are causing irreparable damage to both the natural and archaeological environment of the hills. By example, there have been over 16 devastating fires (and burned out vehicles) in April this year alone – that’s 60% of such events for the entirety of 2016. Moreover, the public’s comfort in exploring the environment – their landscape – is compromised and public safety is most definitely at risk, both in terms of violence, theft and uncontrolled arson. At least one hillwalker was recently trapped in thick smoke between multiple fires started by local youths, despite wide-spread media reporting and public briefings.

With help from the Heritage Lottery Fund North East and Teesside Archaeological Society, the ICE AND FIRE project has been established, with support from multiple organisations, to assess, sample and rescue the archaeology-at-risk, but also to pull together the many stakeholders across the community to focus on sustainable solutions – with political momentum. The project is making excellent progress, with summer fieldwork now underway, on rallying many voices, including the Friends of Eston Hills, around a single ‘landscape’ community cause. The aim is to try and turn around perceptions and behaviour, across generations and backgrounds, to make the destruction by a minority socially unacceptable. From an archaeological perspective this is a unique landscape, and a wetland that holds great potential, dating back at least to the early Mesolithic in the ninth millennium BC. Flint artefacts are being brought to the surface by off-road vehicles, erosion and fires. Indeed, if the wetland proves to date back to the end of the last Ice Age, the potential is both rare and very exciting.

What’s more, Media engagement has helped underpin a recent public meeting hosted by Redcar’s re-elected MP, Anna Turley, who has been horrified by the carnage – and the very real risk to human life. A great turnout, and passionate opinions, were addressed to a panel which included emergency services, council representatives and community organisations, followed by ongoing workgroup meetings hosted by Cleveland Police, to prioritise and execute on get-well plans. Activities have included popular school visits – and creative engagement with the children, guided site visits, and forthcoming involvement in archaeological fieldwork, post-excavation, dissemination and community-relevant story telling as a connection with the past.


With the wonders of the mobile Internet and social media, it is as if the daily progress on site is like being joined to trenches and test pits! I’m based in London and while I’ll be visiting the hills next week, I’ve been monitoring progress, chatting with the archaeologists and volunteers, as if I am just behind the birch trees.

Read more about ICE AND FIRE, with many images, videos, links, free downloads and the very latest news »


Backed Spearhead and a Broadax

From the article “Finger Lakes Explorations at Keuka Lake,” the location dubbed Guyanoga Road-North, on survey (for lack of better terms to describe digging for a new septic tank), produced several unusual non-flint pieces that look to challenge the sense that humans first used only small stone tools only, and flint, for their foraging in the Finger Lakes. As indicated previously, the surrounding area may well have supported mastodon, and depending on when the stones were made, they may have been at the shores of a larger Keuka Lake. When European settlers finally arrived in the modern era, the lake had receded from the point where the site is now, leaving it effectively on a ledge, perhaps 30 feet or more above the lake level, with the shoreline at least a few hundred yards distant. It was also reported that they would have looked directly east into a dense forest of enormous basswood, filling the resultant valley north of the lake’s west branch. (See: Cleveland; History and Directory of Yates County, 1873.) Found at the north plot with what I consider a normal spear point, tagged sample #112 (see previous post), the following two stones were unearthed together with a few others and separate from #112, in a cache located at nearly 1 meter of depth, beneath a small layer of soft wood and/or decayed flora inconsistent with the surrounding strata of mostly clay. The pieces were indeed exciting when looked at closer, of similar ironstone as #112, noticing also the astounding primary knapping on the edge of the spear, with its more refined marks at the point, and the general shaping of both samples. And though they do look quite sturdy, and perhaps were used without consequence to their structure, while other samples appear to indicate some wear, aside from the break at one end of the broadaxe, the alternative implications of their apparent non-use are that they were intended for larger prey and never utilized, or were used for ritualistic reasons and perhaps even buried in ritual.

Broadaxe, front and back..

Travelling in time

A day off. I’m heading down to the south coast of England for a wedding.

On the move: for us it’s a task, mandated by the need to get away, to see friends, or to work. For the people I’m taking a break from studying, it was a way of life.

I’m working on a project looking at human society, landscape and environment during the last Ice Age in Worcestershire, a part of the West Midlands long thought to have little to offer on the subject. But that’s changing: we’re starting to realise that the areas around the Severn and Avon valleys contain a rich record of the ebbs and flows of Ice Age life over the past half a million years.

At times, the area was under hundreds of metres of ice that probably topped even the mighty Malvern Hills. At others, temperate grasslands were grazed by hippos, their watering holes stalked by lion and hyaena. And for much of the period, a chilly, treeless, but fertile steppe supported huge herds of migrating mammals. The iconic Woolly Mammoth, Woolly Rhinoceros, and reindeer were accompanied by wild horses, giant deer, and my personal favourite: the mighty Steppe Bison (Bison priscus), an extinct giant whose bones abound in the gravel terraces of Midlands rivers.

Steppe Bison

Steppe Bison (Bison priscus)

The people who followed these herds ranged far and wide across a Britain still connected to the continent by the vast expanse of Doggerland. Now buried deep below the North Sea and the English Channel, inundated by post-Ice Age sea-level rise, the fate of Doggerland is a reminder of how precarious our treasured landscapes can be.

We arrive in Hampshire in the damp afternoon, to stay with family. I take the dog into the woods, a landscape of conifers similar to the young forests home to small groups of hunter-gatherers as Northern Europe emerged from the dusty chill of the Younger Dryas about 11,700 years ago, marking the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic.

conifer plantation

These Mesolithic travellers faced very different challenges to their Ice Age predecessors, but in the forests of Northern Europe there were, at least, plenty of options for shelter. We often find Mesolithic flintknapping waste within the shallow irregular pits left by toppling trees. Why? Well, the tangled mess of root and earth swung skywards when a tree falls provides the perfect windbreak and the beginnings of a very cosy shelter.

As I walk up through stands of larch and pine, I come across a small clearing created by a domino toppling of a small group of trees. They came down a few winters back, and I’ve watched their progress ever since, imagining how they might have been used 10,000 years ago. For a while after they fall, ‘tree-throw’ pits are often filled with dirt and stagnant water – hardly an attractive prospect. But this cluster, undisturbed by foresters, has grassed over nicely. The sticky clay and tangled root have weathered to a perfect facsimile of a wattle-and-daub wall, and the light pours into the clearing from the hole in the canopy. It has all the appearance of a village of comfortable dwellings, and that – I imagine – is just how similar scenes would have appeared to my predecessors, travelling through on their own journeys all those thousands of years ago.

A village of fallen conifers

As I call the dog and turn to trudge up the slope, one final detail catches my eye, and breaks the spell. Poking out of one wall of clay and root is a car tyre, entwined decades ago into the root system of the growing tree, and now exposed once more. Tomorrow I continue my journey on tyres of rubber, and leave my stone age dreams behind.

Car tyre within tree throw

Rob Hedge

Finger Lakes Explorations at Keuka Lake


Located at the southern end of the last glacial advance, the Finger Lakes region is composed of a diverse landscape carved by consecutive advancements and recessions of glacial ice believed to have been from 2.4 – 3.2 Kilometers thick. Leaving behind large landscapes difficult to navigate by today’s standards, the predominantly north – south orientation of hills and valleys, with several large navigable lakes at the north end of the Susquehanna River system, lend themselves to the theory that humans made their way here from the Chesapeake Bay Area, which the Smithsonian Institute has collected data on over the past several years, indicating that humans may have used the waterway after crossing the Atlantic, as posited in recent years by Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian – even pre-Holocene – and thus challenging the Bering Strait theory that early migrations only crossed into the Americas from Asia.

Recent discoveries of Mastodon remains near the base of the Hudson River system (Bowser Road Mastodon Site, Kingstown area;, also support the possibility that people arrived from either northward or eastward journeys as far back as 11k BCE. With known Mastodon remains found at Letchworth to the west of the Finger Lakes, and Clovis technology, found by William Ritchie at the Southeast end of Canandaigua Lake (considered to be some 13 kyo), it begs the question of earliest sustainable hunter-gathering in the region.

With the likelihood of sufficient numbers of large prey, the reality is also that earliest habitants, without large and accessible deposits of flint or obsidian material, used alternative stone technology for toolmaking.

Early site indications:

Uncovered, at the Northwest end of Keuka Lake (and fully south of the entirety of Canandaigua Lake) between Ritchie’s find at the southeast end of Canandaigua Lake (due-west some 40 Kilometers) and the Lamoka site (southeast some 40 Kilometers), through non-archeological excavations (intended to address wastewater management and initiate a new water line past a shallow well) at the base of a hill on a kame terrace, near what once would have been at the shore of Keuka Lake, samples were obtained amidst 1-2 meters of topsoil and clay-based soil above the region’s shale, with at least one storage pit beginning 1 m below the surface; a diverse range of ironstone, quartzite, and other assorted matter, with strata including layers of human activity, especially surrounding the well, with many pointed stones and flakes. Other deposits found at the northern end of the plot (near the wastewater management project) indicate stone worked with a Debitage Blank System of knapping typical of MSA shaping, or more specifically, for several ironstone points, an Acheulean-Levallois prepared core technique similar to that used in the Levant, the region surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean.

Today’s objective:

Initiate first digital images with Localized GPS, and establish a grid for continued and specified exploration of exposed wastewater management ground at north end of the plot. With the weather finally indicating several days without rain in the forecast, today looks to be an excellent opportunity to begin looking again more closely at the site.

Images pending:

Artifacts if any found today
Images from previously uncovered samples:

Contemplating and Communicating the Palaeolithic landscapes of Wales

This post has been published on behalf of Elizabeth Walker at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

I’m Elizabeth Walker, currently the Interim Head of Collections Management for Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. I’m an archaeologist by background specialising in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology of Wales. After a busy week attending meetings for the delivery of new displays at St Fagans National Museum of History, discussing the arrangements for bringing items in on loan and dealing with questions of collections management from all areas of the Museum I decided to have my own rare day of archaeology today.

So what have I been doing? The day began by planning a public behind the scenes store visit to see some of the remains from mammal species now extinct in Wales. As my bus brought me into Cardiff this morning I looked across at the city stretched ahead and I began to think how different the landscape of Wales was throughout the Palaeolithic. There were no roads or permanent settlements. People were mobile hunter-gatherers walking through their landscape, dependent upon the climate, the passing of animals and the fruits of the season for obtaining their food.

Reconstruction painting showing Cardiff as it might have looked 230,000 years ago

The Welsh caves have provided a wealth of evidence for Palaeolithic peoples’ lives and the Museum has been conducting excavations in caves to uncover and interpret them. Excavations have taken place at Pontnewydd Cave, Denbighshire where evolutionary early Neanderthal remains have been found associated with the bones and teeth of the animals that would have been around 230,000 years ago. These mammals include the cave bear, leopard, cave lion, narrow-nosed and Merck’s rhinoceros along with species still familiar to us today; horse, wolf, red deer, bison, voles and lemmings. On Gower, Bacon Hole has revealed evidence for straight-tusked elephants and hippopotamus during the last interglacial. A time when there were no people, as they didn’t get across the English Channel before Britain became an island.

A straight-tusked elephant tooth from Bacon Hole (c) Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

As the last ice advance began to take hold the land-bridge reformed and people entered Wales. At caves including Paviland Cave and Cathole Cave, Gower, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros remains have been recovered from excavations, along with hyaena, reindeer, bison and other large mammals. As the last ice advance retreated people followed the herds of horse and deer back into Wales and Museum excavations at Hoyle’s Mouth and Little Hoyle, Tenby, have generated ample evidence of people’s cultural debris; stone tools, debitage from making stone tools, butchered and cut-marked animal bones discarded after their meals and after removal of the skins and other resources necessary to sustain human life. These help provide an insight into the lives of the people who once lived in Wales 10,000 and more years ago.

Adult and juvenile cave bear teeth from Pontnewydd and Paviland Caves (c) Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

My behind the scenes tour this morning saw Museum visitors being excited at seeing a selection of these bones and teeth from the Museum collection close up. These mammal remains are kept in the Museum where anyone can arrange a visit to see them.

Photos from the Behind-the-Scenes tour

So after my day of archaeology what shall I do now? Despite the rain, rather than taking the bus I think I’ll spend the next few hours walking through Cardiff, across the Cardiff Bay Barrage and along the Wales coast path through Penarth on towards Barry. I’ll pass the findspot of the Lavernock Palaeolithic handaxe and I’ll think about the landscape and the mammals that once roamed South Wales and plan out my weekend gathering, picking some cultivated fruits. So in my own modern way I will continue some of the activities of the Palaeolithic people – but I’ll be wearing my technical waterproof clothing, rather than damp animal skins!

Lavernock Handaxe (c) Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales


Redecz Krukowy 20. The oldest Funnel Beaker Culture settlement from Kuyavia, Central Poland and many more!

From March 2017 we are working on one of the last steps of archaeological project which means for us preparation for monographic publication of our long term excavation in Redecz Krukowy site 20. This site is located in Kuyavia which is one of the richest areas in archaeological finds in Poland.

Site 20 which is a very important locality was excavated from 2006 till 2010.

Rainbow over the site 20 in Redecz Krukowy (2009)

The survey was conducted by the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography in Lodz and during thirteen months of terrain exploration over 7,000 m2 was explored with sieving.

Aerial photography of site 20 in Redecz Krukowy (2017)

This procedure of sieving of all layers also included modern plough soil on such a unique large area, gave chance to get around 25,000 flint artifacts and more then 100 000 fragments of pottery. Most of them belong to the oldest phase called “Sarnowo phase” of Funnel Beaker Culture.

Most characteristic “plates” of early Funnel Beaker Culture.

At the site we also excavated material defined as Early Mesolithic workshops and camps, the remains of a hunting visit in the Late Mesolithic, a small campsite of the Neolithic LBK. Other finds come from the Early Bronze Age, the Roman period, and the late Middle Ages.

Late neolithic pottery during documentation (2009).

From 2010 until now we have done a variety of analyzes including C14 dating, flint and ceramics refitting, chemical and geological studies and many more.

One of the most fascinating but tedious and long-lasting method which we apply to our materials was procedure of refitting of flint artefacts, we can say prehistoric puzzles.

Refitted block dated to middle mesolithic around 8500 BP

After few weeks of fitting puzzles together we were able to get almost full blocks of flint knapped 8000 years ago or used broken agricultural tool dated 5000 years ago. Refitting of stones always show great skills and efficiency of prehistoric people and allows us to express yourself in many other aspects such as spatial development and state of preservation of the site.

Further we would like to describe how it was in our excavation. Our employees were the local residents who worked all the years of our research.

Main part of our expedition. Thanks guys! (2006)

Each day of our expedition was similar. We were using shovels and sieves for exploration, and after collecting of all finds, we were preparing a surface for documentation.

Preparations for documenatation of the next layer.

After photographs and draws we could starts with another 10 cm layer of sand.

Our staff and visitors to the excavations were always curious to see our efforts in documentation of our site.

The question of our employees: But what is the matter?

We hope that the book which will be published in December 2018 (unfortunately in Polish but with extensive English translation) will show the quality of our archaeological site and the effort that we have to put into field and office research.


Snails at Snail Cave, and elsewhere in Wales

This post has been published on behalf of Dr. Ben Rowson, Senior Curator: Mollusca at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.  

I am not an archaeologist. Instead, I am a specialist in non-marine molluscs (slugs and snails) at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Cardiff. Nonetheless I have the occasional privilege of working on molluscs from archaeological sites, and today is one of those “inter-disciplinary” days.

My usual role is to sort and identify any molluscs from the excavations (which can range from easy to very difficult) and to comment upon their possible significance. In this brief blog I can only give a flavour, but a great new book now exists for anyone keen to learn more (

There are three main roles of molluscs in archaeology. Two are as old as humanity itself.

Snail Cave, North Wales (photo by George Smith)

Firstly, food. Barring religious taboos, inexplicable cultural preferences, and indelible experiences of food poisoning, edible shellfish have been important since prehistory, as attested by shell middens at countless occupied sites. When archaeologists first excavated Snail Cave, a prehistoric rock shelter near Llandudno, North Wales, they found it dominated by shells of the edible winkle Littorina littorea and other edible rocky shore molluscs. Many of the shells were intact, suggesting that they were “winkled out” with an implement, something almost impossible without first cooking the snails. Seasonal shellfish harvesting was a likely function of the shelter, perhaps in the autumn. Did some Mesolithic months have an “r” in them too?!

The Mesolithic cowrie bead from Snail Cave

Snail Cave also yielded evidence of a second ancient use of molluscs: the manufacture of artefacts. A single perforated bead made from a shell of a northern cowrie Trivia cf. arctica was present in the deposits. This was only the second such bead yet found in Wales, probably dating to the Later Mesolithic age like others found the Britain and Atlantic Europe. The holes appear to have been pierced deliberately to string the bead. Cowrie beads, of course, can still be seen adorning necks, wrists or ankles in the seaside towns of Britain today. And cowries are catnip to shell collectors of all ages.

A snail community in situ, preserved in marl near Monmouth (photo by Stephen Clarke)

In south Wales, my young daughter and I find that Trivia is just rare enough to be worth hunting for, yet common enough to be confident of finding at least one during a summer’s day down the beach. Their eye-like shape gives them a mystic air; in Welsh they are the Cragen Fair (“Mary Shell”), perhaps denoting a more religious power; and in much of the world cowries were literally what wealth was made of. For me personally, there are few better examples of archaeology’s ability to connect us to the past than to imagine that prehistoric beachcomber, feeling just as I do when a cowrie winks up from the sand.

Another snail community characteristic of its habitat (in this case, sand dunes)

The third role of molluscs in archaeology requires shells not touched by human hand. Terrestrial molluscs – most of which are small – can live and die in tiny patches of the right habitat, yet their shells can persist for millennia. This can make them excellent indicators of past environmental conditions. The reconstructive use of land snails in archaeology was pioneered by John Gwynne “Snails” Evans (1941-2005), whose collection now resides at Amgueddfa Cymru. From time to time I have identified snails in the same vein, most recently from excavations near Monmouth, where a rich mollusc fauna thrived beside what is thought to have been a large post-glacial lake. Currently, I am working on material from far earlier in our prehistory – from hominin sites in Africa –– but that will merit a blog of its own another time.

I would like to thank Elizabeth Walker for introducing me to the work at Snail Cave and in Monmouth and Matt Knight for inviting me to contribute a DoA blog.

Lunt Meadows Mesolithic Settlement, Merseyside: A Site for Sore Eyes

Over the last four years I, and a faithful band of volunteers,  have been excavating a rare kind of Mesolithic site at Lunt, Sefton a few miles north of Liverpool, on behalf of the Museum of Liverpool. This dates to about 8000 years ago, in the Mesolithic period, when groups of hunter-gatherers lived in the flood-plain of the River Alt leaving behind relatively well-preserved traces of a series of building floors dotted with pits in two defined, adjacent areas.

Information board next to the excavations

My day of archaeology though has been less concerned with investigating the intrinsic importance of the archaeology than with another important facet of the site, as it passed an important milestone in its development this week when it was officially opened for public viewing while the excavations continue.

Open Day

The Open Day was organised through the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside which now manages this part of the valley, after being farmland for the last thousand or more years. It was during the Trust’s creation of a wetland nature reserve here that, along with several other deeply buried Mesolithic sites, the Lunt Meadows settlement was discovered in 2012.

Wildlife Trust officer being interviewed by Radio Merseyside during construction of viewing platform

Wildlife Trust officer being interviewed by Radio Merseyside during construction of the viewing platform

Volunteer archaeologist explaining the site up-close to visitors

Volunteer archaeologist explaining the site up-close to visitors

The Open Day attracted over 500 people many of whom were given tours of the site and learned about hunter-gatherers and the local Mesolithic landscape.

It is hoped that as the site becomes better known more visitors will seek it out. Once the excavations are finished the ground essentially will be left open and the vegetation managed, and possibly there may be reconstructions of some of the buildings on the excavated site.


Thanks to the folks from Phoenix Futures, Wirral.....

Thanks to the folks from Phoenix Futures, Wirral …..

... who constructed two Mesolithic-type structures for the Open Day

… who constructed two Mesolithic-type structures for the Open Day

For me, such visits will be made worthwhile by its location. The site lies in the floodplain and formerly lay on a slight rise of sand which had been buried by later wetland sediments after the settlement was abandoned. Choosing this location was a deliberate strategy by the hunter-gather population of this area. Previous archaeological survey has shown that there is very little evidence for sites of this period away from the floodplain throughout the valley.

It is hoped that visitors will be able to gain a deeper appreciation of this ancient connection through seeing at first-hand the (re-)integration of a prehistoric wetland settlement into a modern day version of its former setting that has been made possible by the kind co-operation, support and help of the Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, who cannot be thanked enough.

landscape and site2

In turn, it is hoped that visitors looking primarily to visit a wild place on the fringes of Liverpool for its modern amenity value of peace, greenery and wildlife will be inspired to see the landscape in a multi-dimensional way when encountering this special, long-lost place nestling into what looks something like its former ancient wild landscape.

Snapshot 1 (05-08-2016 16-20)

It is this integration that many of the volunteers who excavate on the site tune into: the subtle changing sounds and sights of the natural world giving partially glimpsed reflections of a former world which is pulled into more focus through the immediacy of working from day to day on the ancient surface, or through lifting from where they had been dropped, placed or thrown the stone artefacts that once helped sustain the people who lived in this environment.

And soon, as the days shorten the relative quiet of summer will be broken by the noise and sights of the incessant flocks of migrating wildfowl who will make their home in the wetland this winter bringing another year’s excavation full circle and we witness the latest modern installment in a seemingly timeless, long-interrupted cycle of life in the wild in the flooded wetland.

Snapshot 4 (05-08-2016 16-30)


Sieving the Mesolithic

The rain was mercifully holding off and the mid morning breeze had all but blown itself away as I crouched at the edge of a sand lined pool in the rough corner of a reed-thick, marshy field and slowly lifted the tarnished metal object like some venerated long lost relic, dripping from the shallow water. A swallow dipped silently, swiftly low to my right and was gone.

The on-site sieving pool.

The on-site sieving pool.

As a complete and utter novice when it comes to archaeology, I’d been thrilled to be offered an opportunity recently to be a volunteer for a day on the mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows, Sefton, near Liverpool. Fortunately, my enquiry to participate in the dig had neatly coincided with the run up to the Day of Archaeology. It was Friday 29th July 2016 and I was actually, finally, having a close encounter with prehistory.

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve from the river Alt embankment.

Lunt Meadows Nature Reserve from the river Alt embankment.

The site was identified beneath low-lying farm land close to the river Alt in 2012, by the Curator of Archaeology at the Museum of Liverpool, Ron Cowell. During his team’s four-year long dig some intriguing finds have been unearthed, perhaps most notably and mysteriously a shiny yellow stone consisting of iron pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’.

An overview of the Mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows.

An overview of the Mesolithic site at Lunt Meadows.

A recent volunteer’s find, bearing a roughly worked cutting edge.

A recent volunteer’s find, bearing a roughly worked cutting edge.

One of the many precise site drawings made during the four year excavation.

One of the many precise site drawings made during the four year excavation.

What the meticulous excavation process at Lunt Meadows is gradually revealing includes datable evidence within and around the surface of a number of curved walls, shallow pits, tree roots and what appear to be traces of several post holes.

Ron Cowell explains how the 8,000 year old site might have evolved. (23 July 2016)

Ron Cowell explains how the 8,000 year old site might have evolved. (23 July 2016)

These findings appear to suggest that nomadic hunter-gatherers of 8,000 years ago could have created simple structures there, in the form of semi-permanent dwellings. It is thought that generations of family groups may have inhabited the North West England site seasonally and that individual occupations were intermittent.

The finely meshed sieve and a bag of Shirdley Hill sand.

The finely meshed sieve and a bag of Shirdley Hill sand.

By late morning I’d been shown how to correctly sieve a bag of Shirdley Hill sand. Once all the finer particles had passed through the sieve’s one millimetre mesh, I was able to confidently identify, separate and quantify what remained from each sample. The three and four litre bags of grimy-looking sand, troweled systematically from various levels and locations on the site, might contain material of real significance. The analysis of the sand’s contents could indicate what might have taken place there around 6,000 BC.

A depression from which a find has been extracted following its grid referencing.

A depression from which a find has been extracted following its grid referencing.

What I could see as I scrutinised the ancient evidence trapped in the seive, were the tell-tale small chunks of charcoal, along with a few unmistakable fragments of blackened hazelnut shells, both of which were evidence of burning. These were intermixed with small clumps and threads of the brown fibrous material I’d been told to expect.

What remained from the Mesolithic after my first experience of sieving.

What remained from the Mesolithic after my first experience of sieving.

However, what delighted me was the presence of the elegant, tangible thing that had first caught my eye. I’d pretended to ignore it as I clumsily separated the ancient spoils. But there it was, a small flint flake, stark and glistening in the sieve, like a tiny shark’s fin. Even though this lithic was only a byproduct of probable tool making, it was nevertheless an indicative link to human prehistory and represented a rare encounter for me.

Bagged samples of charcoal and fibrous material extracted from the sieved sand.

Bagged samples of charcoal and fibrous material extracted from the sieved sand.

Having done the best I could to divide and estimate the proportions of fibrous and burnt material from my sieving, I consigned them together into small bags on which I’d written the original sand sample numbers and the rest of the relevant data. The extracted ‘lithics’, in the form of my flint shark’s fin and another smaller dark flake, went into a separate bag which then re-joined the sample material.

A view across the Nature Reserve from the Lunt Meadows mesolithic site.

A view across the Nature Reserve from the Lunt Meadows mesolithic site.

I spent what remaind of my Day of Archaeology sieving, bagging and recording the data relating to the sand samples. Towards the early evening, as I gazed across the Nature Reserve to the skyline, I began wondering whether there may be other opportunities for a novice like me to continue learning, while helping in some small way to unlock the secrets of prehistory.

And the moorhens called to each other and a reed bunting sang.

What’s it like working in a research team in archaeology?

I work on stone tools and soil chemistry from a site in Yorkshire called Flixton Island 2 as well as a little bit of work on another much bigger and better known nearby site called Star Carr – and yes, it can be dull at times (putting soils out to dry is never thrilling, though oddly calming) but the results about what they can tell us about how people were living tens of thousands of years ago can be really exciting. These sites are both from the Mesolithic period, when we were still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Britain. It’s all about getting down to the nitty gritty, day-to-day lives of people in the past.