Archaeology and Landscape: Mesolithic

Mesolithic Research Strategy

Social and economic change

Research priorities in Mesolithic studies in the West Midlands include investigation of the Upper Palaeolithic to Early Mesolithic transition, the nature of social, economic and cultural changes during the Mesolithic, and the transition from hunting and gathering to farming during the Late Mesolithic.

Colonisation processes (see Tolan-Smith 2003a) and changing modes of occupation demand particular attention, especially the change suggested from Early Mesolithic seasonal residence systems that were part of long distance migratory cycles in open grassland landscapes, to Late Mesolithic ‘tethered mobility’ settlement patterns within relatively fixed local territories in woodland landscapes. ­These have very different implications for the scale and spatial organisation of social groups and community dispersal and aggregation (Smith 1992, Spikens 2000). Th­is will require a good deal more detailed investigation of occupation sites (especially of Early Mesolithic and Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic date) and the recovery of detailed evidence for changes in environmental conditions, resource availability and diet (Myers 2007, 28, 34; cf Prehistoric Society 1999, 4-5).

Research Aims

WORCS_MES01: What information can occupation sites (especially of Early Mesolithic and Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic date) and the recovery of detailed evidence for changes in environmental conditions, resource availability and diet (Myers 2007, 28, 34; cf Prehistoric Society 1999, 4-5), provide in respect to the impact of the change from seasonal residence as part of long distance migratory cycles in grasslands to ‘tethered mobility’ within relatively fixed local territories in woodlands [28/29]

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Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Occupation site, Diet, Migration, Environmental change

Settlement, economy and community

There is considerable potential in the west midlands for investigating local adaptations by Mesolithic communities to particular environmental conditions and landscape settings. Key research aims must be to identify and investigate occupation sites, to characterise different kinds of settlements and activities, and relate these to wider residence patterns, social groups and systems of resource exploitation.

This will require landscape studies organised at an appropriate analytical scale (see Darvill 2003) to integrate the evidence for social practices from well-preserved occupation sites with the evidence from surface lithic scatters (Myers 2007, 32-5).

The presence of possible structures and activity areas at Mesolithic sites in the region suggests that there is considerable research potential for analyses of social practices within occupation areas and perhaps settlement organisation (cf Grøn 2001; Smith 1992, 29-34; Whitelaw 1994).

Other important research themes in this context include the perception and meaning of landscape (see: Moore 2003; Zvelebil 2003), environmental manipulation by Mesolithic communities (eg deliberate burning to facilitate hunting in open clearings; Moore 2003), and diet and population mobility (eg based on stable isotope studies of human skeletal material; (Richards and Schulting 2003).

Research Aims

WORCS_MES02: WORCS_MES02: How do the different kinds of settlement and activity sites relate to wider residence patterns, social groups and systems of resource exploitation?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Occupation site, Diet, Migration, Environmental change

WORCS_MES03: How do we best to integrate the evidence for social practices from well-preserved occupation sites with the evidence from surface lithic scatters (Myers 2007, 32-5)

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Occupation site, Lithic scatter, Diet, Migration, Environmental change

WORCS_MES04: What can we learn about settlement organisation and social practices within occupation areas from the possible structures and activity areas at Mesolithic sites in the region?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Occupation site, Diet, Migration, Environmental change

WORCS_MES05: How far may studies of Mesolithic diet and mobility patterns be advanced by stable isotope studies of human skeletal material (Richards and Schulting 2003) ?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Stable isotope analysis, Occupation site, Diet, Migration, Environmental change

WORCS_MES06: What can environmental analysis tell us about environmental manipulation by Mesolithic communities, (e.g. deliberate burning to facilitate hunting in open clearings (Moore 2003) ?

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Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Environment, Community, Environmental change

Lithic artefacts

A fundamental aspect of Mesolithic research in the west midlands should be systematic study of the principal archaeological resource, lithic artefacts, especially in relation to technologies, tool function and behaviour. Analysis of existing lithic artefact collections in museums and full publication of excavated site data would considerably enhance the research potential of this material (Myers 2007, 35). A number of key research aims in lithic studies in the region can be identified (ibid; cf Lithic Studies Society 2004):

Refinement of lithic artefact chronologies, especially in relation to Early Mesolithic variants, possible intermediate industries containing basally trimmed microliths and early to mid 4th millennium BC types.

Chronological evaluation of technological and typological changes in comparison to changes in the locations and sizes of sites (which elsewhere in Britain appears to be closely related; Myers 2007, 34).

Identification of ‘assemblage-types’ (and thus consistent technical and behavioural categories in site use) in Early and Late Mesolithic assemblages through quantitative and comparative analysis of artefact assemblages.

Definition of raw material types and artefact reduction sequences to study stone tool manufacturing technologies, and investigation of intra-site discard patterns and tool use (cf Lithic Studies Society 2004, 4-5).

Research Aims

WORCS_MES07: Can we refine further lithic artefact chronologies, especially in relation to Early Mesolithic variants, possible intermediate industries containing basally trimmed microliths and early to mid 4th millennium BC types ?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Lithic scatter, Microlith, Artefact analysis, Artefact studies

WORCS_MES08: Is there a relationship between technological and typological changes in comparison to changes in the locations and sizes of sites (which elsewhere in Britain appears to be closely related; Myers 2007, 34) ?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Lithic scatter, Microlith, Typology, Technology, Artefact analysis, Artefact studies

WORCS_MES09: Can we identify ‘assemblage-types’ (and thus consistent technical and behavioural categories in site use) in Early and Late Mesolithic assemblages through quantitative and comparative analysis of artefact assemblages?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Assemblage, Lithic scatter, Microlith, Typology, Technology, Artefact analysis, Artefact studies

WORCS_MES10: What information can raw material types and artefact reduction sequences provide in respect of stone tool manufacturing technologies ?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Assemblage, Lithic scatter, Microlith, Typology, Technology, Artefact analysis, Artefact studies

WORCS_MES11: What information is available in respect of intra-site discard patterns and tool use (cf Lithic Studies Society 2004, 4-5) ?

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Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Found in the following Frameworks:
Worcestershire
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Assemblage, Lithic scatter, Microlith, Typology, Technology, Artefact analysis, Artefact studies

Spatial patterns and regionality

A clear research priority in regional terms should be to determine the overall spatial pattern of Mesolithic activity in the west midlands, especially in relation to the interpretative framework proposed by Tolan-Smith (2003b) and recent discussions of territoriality, regionality and the possible presence of distinct ethnic or cultural groups in the European Mesolithic (cf Bergsvik 2003; Jacobi 1976; Reynier 1998; Saville 2003; Smith 1992).

Central research aims, in this context, should be to determine whether the midlands was a sparsely inhabited region during the whole or part of the Mesolithic (Tolan-Smith 2003b), and to identify typologically distinctive assemblages and artefact types in the region (such as ‘midlands basally-trimmed microliths’) that may represent distinct cultural identities, social groups or demographic relationships (Myers 2007, 32, 34).

Was the region sparsely inhabited during the whole or part of the Mesolithic (Tolan-Smith 2003b)?

A major methodological issue in this context is the reliability of existing HER databases for constructing distribution maps of Mesolithic find spots, and how these may (or may not) reflect the original density and intensity of occupation at different times during this period (ibid; cf Lithic Studies Society 2004, 3; Smith 1992, 27-43).

Myers (2007) observes that many field and curatorial archaeologists are unfamiliar with current themes in Mesolithic archaeology and Early Holocene environmental studies, and may need specific guidance for dealing with Mesolithic sites, especially in regard to the potential of lithic artefact analysis and site recognition and data recover methods (e.g. English Heritage 2000, Lithic Studies Society 2004, Pollard 1998). [30]

A fundamental requirement for future research on the Mesolithic of the west midlands is improvement of local authority HER databases so that they include all known finds and sites (Myers 2007, 34-5). These provide the primary sources of archaeological data used in the development control process yet in some cases appear not to have taken account of available gazetteers of known evidence (ibid). It would assist research if these databases categorised artefactual material in more detail, at the very least in broad chronological terms. [30]

The preparation of precise specifications for projects that are likely to encounter Mesolithic sites or artefacts is essential, especially with regard to appropriate surface collection and excavation methods for recovering Mesolithic evidence (ibid). [30]

It is important that strategies are put in place for recognising and/or prospecting for Mesolithic material during excavations of later sites, including urban locations (high quality evidence, for example, has been recovered from urban sites in London; ibid). [30]

Systematic surface collection of Mesolithic artefact assemblages is needed throughout the west midlands, especially in areas which have attracted little previous work and/or where little is known about Mesolithic activity (e.g. river valleys). Surveys of different soil-types and topographic locations to identify preferred occupation or activity sites would be of considerable value, especially for predictive modelling of site locations. [30]

There is considerable potential for more widespread and intensive use of systematic test-pitting methods as a means of prospecting for and evaluating Mesolithic sites. However, a critical requirement of such surveys is the need to use narrow intervals between both surface collection and test-pitting transacts in order to locate small lithic artefact concentrations of 10m diameter or less (Myers 2007, 33-4; see Hey and Lacey 2001, for a discussion on sampling procedures on prehistoric sites). [30]

Scatters of Mesolithic artefacts defined by surface collection and test-pitting should be excavated as a standard procedure to recover artefacts in the topsoil and to explore possible features beneath (which may be relatively insubstantial and thus easily destroyed by machining) (English Heritage 2000). [31]

Careful and detailed recording of the character, content and spatial distribution of lithic assemblages is essential. The development of excavation methods appropriate for investigating and analysing artefact-prolific scatters produced by numerous repeat visits to the same location, would be especially valuable (Myers 2007, 34-5). [31]

Well-preserved Mesolithic sites with stratified artefact assemblages, structural remains and/or high quality environmental and dating evidence are of primary research importance in regional, national and international terms. [31]

Systematic evaluation of cave sites in the region to identify stratified Mesolithic deposits, recover artefact assemblages and human remains, and collect radiocarbon dating samples, may be particularly rewarding (ibid). [31]

The recovery of human remains would be exceptionally important for dating purposes, dietary and demographic studies, and for investigating mortuary and ritual practices (cf Conneller 2006). [31]

Research Aims

WORCS_MES12: How does the overall spatial pattern of Mesolithic activity in the west midlands, reflect the interpretative framework proposed by Tolan-Smith (2003b) and recent discussions of territoriality, regionality and the possible presence of distinct ethnic or cultural groups in the European Mesolithic (cf Bergsvik 2003; Jacobi 1976; Reynier 1998; Saville 2003; Smith 1992) ?

More information on this question
Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Categories:
Mesolithic, Ethnicity, Distribution patterns, Territory

WORCS_MES13: Can we identify typologically distinctive assemblages and artefact types in the region (such as ‘midlands basally-trimmed microliths’) that may represent distinct cultural identities, social groups or demographic relationships (Myers 2007, 32, 34)?

More information on this question
Status:
Active
Date accepted:
01/04/2021
Categories:
Mesolithic, Lithic implement, Assemblage, Ethnicity, Demography, Distribution patterns, Territory

Bibliography

Bibliography Forthcoming