Thursday 1 September 2011

Mesolithic excavation at Storakaig

Professor Steve Mithen of Reading University, whose presentation to the INHT was attended by around 100 people last night, is leading a second year of excavations on a site near Storakaig.  Last year, radiocarbon dates were obtained from the site placing it at the end of the Mesolithic, at around 5,800BP.  Steve says that this makes the site particularly interesting because it may provide clues as to the nature of the transition between the Mesolithic and Neolithic economic and cultural systems.

Of particular interest is the amount of organic material on the site, unusual on Islay because acid soils usually dissolve organic materials.  At Storakaig, however, the site sits on a limestone outcrop and preservation is enhanced.  This has enabled preservation of plant materials such as hazel shells, and also animal bones.  Mammals identified so far include Roe and Red deer, Badger, and Wild boar.  These latter two species are not now found on Islay of course, and Steve points out that finding their bones does not necessarily indicate that they were present even during the Mesolithic - they could have been imported by this highly mobile seafaring community for use as food or, more likely, tools. Alternatively, they could have been found dead on the shore - a badger was washed up on the Big Strand about 15 years ago.

Simon, Karen and Matt drive a core sampler into the peat to determine the extent of the Mesolithic living surface.

Once the core is removed it is examined for the dark staining that indicates the presence of the degraded organic material that comprises the living surface.

The living surface can be detected in this core between around 52-58cms;  the white flecks are bone fragments.
Steve Mithen (right) shows Mark Reynier of Bruichladdich fragments of worked stone on the areas of living surface being excavated in detail under a polytunnel.

Steve shows a stone that has obviously been used as an anvil - with a pronounced depression in its centre where it has been repeatedly struck.

Inside a second polytunnel, students work on sorting the finds.
The work is very painstaking.

Steve explains the significance of some of the more dramatic finds.

Barrow Boys.

A tiny arrowhead fashioned from quartz

This tiny flint microlith shows the delicate reworking of its edges

A flint core from which blades have been struck

Mesolithic tool kit.

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