The finds: Mesolithic ways of life
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The investigations at Lunt Meadows have recovered thousands of coarse stone tools and finer worked stone from inside and outside the structures. The coarse stone pieces represent the first such evidence in the region for this element of hunter-gatherer tool kits. These include a wide variety of stone types that have been brought to the site in the form of hand-sized pebbles. The stone has not been studied in detail yet but include sandstone and volcanic pebbles. All these would have been collected elsewhere and brought to the site by the people who lived here.
Polished surfaces on the pebbles show they have been largely used to rub and smooth various materials. There is no indication what these might have been but possibilities would probably include organic material used for clothing or personal items such as bags perhaps, or possibly for processing plant or animal food, perhaps even wood. High precision microscopic study of the surfaces would be needed though to provide more confident interpretations.
The finer stone was used for smaller tools to cut, scrape or pierce various types of material associated with activities such as food preparation and collection, wood working, preparation of clothing and shelter, amongst no doubt others. Flint is the most common fine stone used for this kind of work in this region. This comes in the form of pebbles that were moved from their original source by the glaciers during the Ice Age and later deposited once the ice melted. Flint at Lunt either seems to have been hard to come by locally or was not chosen as the favoured material.
Chert, a similar material, but which is associated with the formation of limestone, has been used more commonly at Lunt. The nearest source of chert from natural limestone outcrops is in north Wales. Some pieces from Lunt are very similar in appearance to pieces from Mesolithic sites on the Wirral, some of which have been traced to the chert outcrops on the Welsh side of the River Dee. This would have been at least 30 miles away from Lunt. Research is also underway to identify if any chert could have come from the other main regional sources which are in the Pennines. If this turns out to be the case then that would have involved journeys of more than double that distance.
Sites like Lunt might give us new and surprising ideas that in the world of prehistoric hunter-gatherers there were places in the landscape that people kept coming back to and perhaps spent much of their lives there – but as shown by the chert stone, mobility was still an important part of their lives.
The site is only a few miles away from the prehistoric footprints on the modern beach at Formby.These though are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years later than the Lunt settlement. However the people at Formby were still following the same kind of hunting and gathering lifestyle on the coast as their ancestors had done previously further inland at Lunt.
At the time of the Lunt settlement the coastline would have been not too much further out than it is today. There is not yet evidence that the people at Lunt were directly visiting the coast from this settlement and bringing material that they had collected there back to the camp. It is highly likely that at least some of the people living here did use the coast during parts of each year, but we must wait until more evidence is forthcoming before we can decide whether they travelled to and from the coast from the Lunt settlement or had other base camps closer to the sea. Unfortunately, bone has not survived at Lunt because of the sandy conditions, which had it done so would have given us an important understanding of the balance of wild animals, birds and fish in their diet, which might have told us more accurately the role played by coastal resources.
This is a topic of some debate in Mesolithic archaeology for which there is only a little evidence currently. But it is a rewarding study to attempt as it gives us a much closer human connection to these early people’s lives. The basic assumption, taken from historical studies of recent hunter-gatherer groups in various parts of the world, is that they do not make the same separation as we do between nature and culture. Theirs is an integrated world view that places them as an indistinguishable part of the natural world and this is exhibited and commemorated in their everyday lives and actions.
Looking down on the tightly packed stones of at least two pits adjacent to each other. Note the small neat circle of stones on the right and the more tightly packed overlapping stones of the oval group to the left of it in the centre of the photo. Where the two circles join one stone can be seen to be leaning directly on another suggesting they were open at the same time or at least were not very far apart in time.
Stone is a particularly important part of the natural world, and the Mesolithic period is firmly in the Stone Age. Hunter-gatherers thus relied heavily on it to carry out practical activities by which they could maintain themselves and their lives. What is especially interesting about the coarse stone pebbles from Lunt is that they may have been used for more than just practical purposes. Again, much detailed analysis needs to be completed to properly identify if patterns really do exist but initial superficial discoveries during excavation do seem to hold out the possibility that such may be the case.
Many of the stone pebbles found so far have come from pits dug into the floor of the houses or outside the structures. Some of these pebbles had originally been tools used for rubbing or smoothing, and are generally broken. It might be that they could have broken during use but many are completely shattered into chunks which might hint at deliberate breakage. For now though, what is clear is that their edges are still sharp showing that they were placed in the pits very soon after being broken.
Additionally, these pebbles have often been placed carefully rather than just thrown in. The photo shows two further, as yet unexcavated, circular arrangements of stone that show this careful placement. Several more circular groups have since been found next to these suggesting these actions were probably being repeated over time in a defined area of the site.
As Mesolithic hunter-gatherers lived in a wild world long before farming began to change people’s relationship to the natural environment trees and woodland would have been a central part of their everyday experience. Artefacts would have been made from it, although none seem to have survived at Lunt, and food would have been either collected from or hunted in the woodland. Trees probably would have figured strongly in their beliefs about the world and its relationship to humans and animals.
In one of the houses at Lunt is an object which could be a unique reference to this relationship. This part of the building has not been completely excavated yet so until that happens and we know how all the various deposits link together an element of uncertainty must remain. The first picture shows a hollowed piece of burnt wood being excavated. The second one shows the wood after conservation and cleaning in the laboratory by the York Archaeological Trust, which implies that it is the burnt stump of a small tree.
The burnt wood during excavation. Overlying it is a later, unburnt root.
There is no evidence that this was burnt in the ground before the house was built, perhaps as might be expected if the ground was being cleared. There is a large burnt prehistoric tree root on the edge of the other building and that is dramatically different in appearance. The small stump lay in light coloured sand with no charcoal or remains of root channels around it. So it appears as if it may have been burnt elsewhere before finding its way here. It does not seem to have been thrown into a pit. The sand deposit it lies in is best explained currently as a floor surface near the edge of the building. Another dark grey-brown slightly organic floor surface for a later phase of building overlay the sand, so it did not grow through the house floor after the site was abandoned. If it is possible to sustain these conclusions once all the evidence is available then the potential deliberate positioning of a burnt stump of a tree in the floor of a building suggests that we might be witnessing the expression of some kind of relationship that these people commemorated between the wild world and the human one.
The burnt wood after conservation. The white is material used in its cleaning and conservation and will disappear over time.
If further evidence does not come to light throwing doubt on these conclusions then these examples of potentially deliberate non-practical activity, when combined with the wealth of constructional detail from the site, would give a satisfyingly more rounded appreciation of a Mesolithic settlement than is generally the case.