Adventures in the Vale

BioArCh PhD candidate Harry Robson excavates Flixton
Back out in the field, at long last, on a day trip with fellow micromorphologist, Helen Williams (PhD candidate at the University of York). This is a bit of a change for me; normally heading off on field work involves long journeys in hot foreign places, but today I had to go no further than an hour down the road to Flixton, Scarborough. Not such a long journey and fortunately the weather was great. I’m not going to say hot as the last place I went to that was ‘hot’ was 40°+ ( in the 100°s), and I think if it ever got to that temperature in the UK it would literally be breaking the record.  And an added bonus to local fieldwork - a nice cup of Yorkshire tea afterwards with Helen's parents!

As I mentioned a few months ago, I will be joining the Star Carr project next year as a part-time microarchaeology specialist, which will involve advising on micromorphology, geochemistry and phytoliths amongst other things. Flixton Island is one of a number of early Mesolithic sites in the Vale of Pickering, located a few hundred metres from Star Carr, and  is one of the sites being investigated as part of the POSTGLACIAL project (directed by Professor Nicky Milner and Dr Barry Taylor). During the Mesolithic much of the area was covered by Lake Flixton, which formed during a warm period at the end of the last Ice Age, before the Younger Dryas. Star Carr was located on the shores of the lake, which became gradually infilled with sediments and formation of a peat layer. By the end of the Mesolithic the lake had become a wetland of reed swamp, fen and wet woodland. Peat provides great preservation conditions for organic remains, and it is hoped that we will be able to recover a detailed record of the environment and human activity in the area. Speaking of fantastic preservation, the excavations have already uncovered animal footprints in the buried mud deposits of the old lake shore!

Dig directors Nicky and Barry check out the footprints
In terms of microarchaeology the site presents a challenge. One of the key questions is how did the hunter-gather population react and adapt to the changing climate and environment during this period, and can we see changes in these adaptive responses over time? The shallow nature of the stratigraphy and relatively ephemeral nature of the occupation deposits (compared to intensely occupied later prehistoric sites) means that unravelling short periods of activity is problematic.

Soil over peat over silts, gravels and sands

Bioturbation is evident in the sections, though we are hoping that the micromorphology will help understand how much this has impacted the archaeology (fingers crossed, not too much). First impressions in the field make me think such deposits may represent a cumulative palimpsest of sporadic activity, and we may need to compare between sites of earlier and later Mesolithic date, rather than within a single site, to investigate changes in human adaptation over time. But we were only there for a few hours, so let’s see how the picture changes when we get going with the analysis!