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March 2016

Faculty research team uncovers 11,000 year old pendant

(4 March 2016)

An 11,000 year old engraved shale pendant was discovered by archaeologists during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire. The artwork on the tiny fragile pendant was uncovered by a research team from the Universities of York, Manchester and Chester, and is the earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain.

Crafted from a single piece of shale, the subtriangular three-millimetre thick artefact measuring 31mm by 35mm contains a series of lines, which archaeologists believe may represent a tree, a map, a leaf, or even tally marks. Engraved motifs on Mesolithic pendants are extremely rare, and no other engraved pendants made of shale are known in Europe. 

When archaeologists uncovered the pendant last year, the lines on the surface were barely visible. The research team used a range of digital microscopy techniques to generate high-resolution images to help determine the style and order of engraving. They also carried out scientific analysis to try to establish if the pendant had been strung or worn, and whether pigments had been used to make the lines more prominent.

Dr Chantal Conneller, from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures 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.”