Amazing story of the 11,000 year old pendant found at Scarborough

An 11,000 year old pendant found near Scarborough, the earliest known piece of Mesolithic art in Britain, may have been worn by a shaman, according to researchers.

Friday, 26th February 2016, 9:31 am
Updated Friday, 26th February 2016, 9:35 am
The 11,000 year old pendant found at Star Carr

Cut from a single piece of shale into a triangle-like shape, the tiny pendant measures just 31mm by 35mm and is a mere 3mm thick.

Archaeologists have been painstakingly examining a series of lines which decorate the artefact.

After close study they say the lines could represent a tree, a map, a leaf or even tally marks.

Detail on the pendant

An engraved motif, such as the one on the find, is extremely rare and no other engraved pendants made of shale are known in Europe.

The pendant was found at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr, near Staxton.

Star Carr is one of a number of archaeological sites around what was the location of a huge lake which covered much of the Vale of Pickering in the Mesolithic era.

Researchers nearly missed the find, which was discovered in lake edge deposits, as they thought it was at first it was nothing more than a stone.

Professor Nicky Milner

Sediment had blocked the hole in the pendant.

But when the find was first discovered, at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr after so many years in the ground, the tiny lines were barely visible.

It was only by generating high res images by using digital microscopy that archaeologists were able to see the full picture.

The team, which was made up of scientists from the University of York, Manchester and Chester, also sought to find out whether the pendant and been strung or worn and whether pigments had been used by the designer to embolden the lines.

Detail on the pendant

While it is the first perforated artefact with engravings discovered at the site, it's not the only example of ancient jewellery uncovered at the site.

Shale beads, a piece of perforated amber and two perforated animal teeth have also been discovered in the past at Star Carr.

And one researcher has suggested the pendant could have been worn by a shaman, as headdresses made out of antlers found nearby were thought to have belonged to such a spiritual figure.

But when it comes to knowing exactly who wore the pendant and what it meant to them, we will probably never know for sure.

Professor Nicky Milner

Research on the pendant was published in the journal Internet Archaeology and the pendant will go on display at the Yorkshire Museum in York.

Professor Nicky Milner, from the University of York, 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 as 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."

Dr Chantal Conneller, from The University of Manchester, 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."

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England which contributed to and 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."