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An 11,000 year old engraved shale pendant discovered by archaeologists during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire is unique in the UK, according to new research.
The artwork on the tiny fragile pendant, uncovered by a research team from the Universities of York, Manchester and Chester, 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. The research, which is part of a five-year project supported by the European Research Council, is published in Internet Archaeology. The research is also supported by Historic England and the Vale of Pickering Research Trust. The pendant is to be showcased to the public for the first time in a display at the Yorkshire Museum in York on 27 February until 5 May. 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 discovered the pendant in lake edge deposits. Initially they thought it was natural stone—the perforation was blocked by sediment and the engravings were invisible. It is the first perforated artefact with engraved design discovered at Star Carr though shale beads, a piece of perforated amber and two perforated animal teeth have been recovered from the site previously.
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"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."
"Some people think that the Cochno Stone is a map showing the other settlements in the Clyde Valley - that's one of the theories. I think it was probably used for lots of things; it was never used for just one thing and over hundreds of years it changed use."