Some say art never ages; well now you can make your own mind up. An engraved shale pendant has been discovered by archaeologists and it is thought to be 11,000 years old.
The tiny fragile pendant was discovered by archaeologists during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire. The artwork which is engraved on the single piece of shale is the earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain.
The almost triangular pendant is .0118 inch (3mm) thick and measures 1.22 inch (31mm) by 1.37 inch (35mm). It has a series of lines inscribed on it, which archaeologists believe may represent a tree, a map, a leaf or even tally marks.
Star Carr has a number of archaeological sites, surrounding what was once the location of a huge lake which would have covered much of the Vale of Pickering during the Mesolithic era.
The researchers discovered the pendant in the lake edge deposits, and had initially thought it was a natural stone. The University of York wrote that the perforation was filled with sediment and the engravings were not visible at the time.
Dr Barry Taylor who was co-director of the excavations, from the University of Chester said in a statement:
“I love these sorts of finds because they are a real connection to people in the past. When we study prehistory we deal with very long periods of time and often focus on very broad issues.
“But this is something that a person wore, that had significance to them and to the people around them. These sorts of artefacts tell us about people and, after all, that’s what archaeology is all about.”
Watch this video from Star Carr about the pendant:
Duncan Wilson the Chief Executive of Historic England, who contributed to and had part-funded the excavation and research publication said:
“The discovery of the pendant is a sensational find. Star Carr is an internationally important ‘at risk’ site, which is why we have provided substantial financial support for the excavation and assistance through the input of our specialist archaeological and archaeological science teams.
“The results have exceeded our expectations and will help rewrite the story of this long and complex, but little understood early prehistoric period.”
While engraved motifs on Mesolithic pendants are extremely rare, there are no other engraved pendants made of shale known in Europe. The series of lines on this artifact, archaeologists believe may represent a tree, a map, a leaf or even tally marks.
Professor Nicky Milner, of the Department of Archaeology at York, who led the research said:
“It was incredibly exciting to discover such a rare object. It is unlike anything we have found in Britain from this period. We can only imagine who owned it, how they wore it and what the engravings actually meant to them.
“One possibility is that the pendant belonged to a shaman — headdresses made out of red deer antlers found nearby in earlier excavations are thought to have been worn by shamans.
“We can only guess what the engravings mean but engraved amber pendants found in Denmark have been interpreted as amulets used for spiritual personal protection.”
When the Mesolithic pendant was discovered last year, the lines on the surface were barely noticeable. It took the use of a range of digital microscopy techniques to produce high resolution images, which helped to determine the style and order of engraving.
Dr Chantal Conneller, from The University of Manchester and co-director of the excavations, said:
“This exciting find tells us about the art of the first permanent settlers of Britain after the last Ice Age. This was a time when sea-level was much lower than today. Groups roamed across Doggerland (land now under the North Sea) and into Britain.
“The designs on our pendant are similar to those found in southern Scandinavia and other areas bordering the North Sea, showing a close cultural connection between northern European groups at this time.”
The research team also carried out scientific analysis to establish whether the pendant had been strung or worn and if pigments had been used. This is the first perforated artefact which has an engraved design to be discovered at Star Carr.
Here is the scan of the pendant from Star Carr:
Where can you see it
The pendant will be showcased to the public for the first time, at the Yorkshire Museum in York on 27 February until 5 May. The display will also feature other Star Carr finds including flints, a rare barbed point used for hunting or fishing and 11,000 year old fire lighters. These will feature alongside the digital interpretation and high resolution imagery of the pendant.
Natalie McCaul, curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, said:
“We are thrilled to be able to showcase such a nationally significant object for the first time. Its remarkable discovery changes the way we think about our ancestors who lived in Yorkshire 11,000 years ago and the rituals, beliefs and cultural values that were part of their lives.
“We are excited that the rest of the collection from the excavations will come to the museum in time and we’re looking forward to preserving and displaying it for the public to enjoy.”
The research was published in Internet Archaeology.