Star Carr Culture History
Star Carr is often referred to one of the most important of the Mesolithic sites mainly because of the many artifacts that have been found, and due to the simple age of the site. Dated to around 11,000 years it gives us an important insight into the lives and culture of a group of people that lived so long ago.
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Some of these artifacts that have been found are tools, weapons, jewelry, and 33 deer skull head-pieces, and it is these headpieces that are starting to give insights into the hunting and religious practices and culture of the people of Star Carr. In an exhibition titled “A Survival Story – Prehistoric Life at Star Carr ” curator and director stated in an interview at Haaretz, that “This was a time before farming, before pottery, before metalworking – but the people who made their homes there returned to the same place for hundreds of years.” (Cowie 2019) With such findings as one of the oldest house-like structures and jetty found in Great Britain, this gives rise the thought that this site was used more than just once and forgotten.
These people, so used to depending on the land for survival, were probably much more in-tune with nature than that of later descendants, and it is from this assumption that when non-agriculture items are found, the general tendency is to apply a religious aspect to them. These deer antler skull masks remind some of Levantine stone masks that have been found with only eye holes, and both could possibly be a part of some symbolic pageant that just has not been understood yet. Yet similar masks have been found in other areas, one being the Mesolithic site of Bedburg-Königshoven was in the vicinity of the former village of Morken, and Mönchengladbach Germany. That both had some of the same markings and antler pieces removed make this religious assumption seem more likely than not than other reasons
But some Cambridge archaeologist that have been and are still involved with the site think that while these headdresses could have been used for ceremonial practices, they were most likely used for hunting camouflage. One such is Dr. Joy who suggests that while the mental image of 30 or more hunters can titillate the imagination, “part of the antlers was removed… One suspects the deer wouldn’t have been fooled!” (Cowie 2019) While it does not appear that he is dismissing the idea these items weren’t used for this purpose, it is hard to believe that a herd of deer or other game animals could fall for such tactics, then again modern hunters use these when they rake two antlers together to attract a buck or bull moose to the area.
Graham Clark, who first discovered the site, had an interpretation that Star Carr was used as a seasonal base for a group of families that numbered around 4 or 5 in number and would visit the prehistoric lakeshore. These visits lasted around 6 years and seemed to follow the migration of red deer. Clark argued that humans and deer came into contact at the lake in winter since there was a large number of weapons and tools made from antler and that these antlers had come from the deer hunted in October- April when the red deer had their antlers, which they shed in the spring.
With these 2 assumptions of why ancient peoples would put so much time and energy into elaborate items, researchers and the like must look at the world differently, and not through today’s modern lenses, but those of ancient men. When this is done one must consider animism, which is the view that non-human entities such as the wind all the way down to animals and trees, each have a spirit or essence that can then be related to through certain rituals and religious practices. These practices were believed to help bring luck to the hunting and that if any post hunting ceremonies took place that these were then used to appease the spirits and thank them for their sacrifices.
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These religious practices can still be seen today in some cultures and communities and according to a paper that was published by NCBI there are still some cultures that practice these rituals, one being the Mayan peasant-hunters across the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, particularly the X-Pichil community, still carry out a hunting ritual – Loojil Ts’oon, Loj Ts’oon or Carbine Ceremony.
In the paper, it discusses how the hunters are given animals to hunt by the gods and “Lords” of the animals. And once these spirits have granted their blessings so to speak, the ritual performance gives legitimacy to the killing of the animal, and this provides a structure for the insurance that the hunters act and remain respectful before, during and after all hunts. (Santos-Fita et al. 2015)
These beliefs can be looked at as being an ingrained part of the human psyche in that a human cannot exist without the creation and maintaining of bonds between the supernatural and natural worlds. Even though much is not known about the peoples of Star Carr, looking at the different cultures found from the past and present researchers can begin to get a picture of what maybe these headdresses were used for, and maybe shed a little light on the culture and lives of past peoples.
- Cowie, Ashley 201911,000-Year-Old Spiritualized Deer Masks Whisper Tales of a Forgotten World. Ancient Origins. https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/deer-masks-021960, accessed February 11, 2019.
- Gilad, Moshe 2019World’S Oldest Masks Come Home to Jerusalem. Haaretz.Com. https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium-worlds-oldest-masks-return-to-jerusalem-1.5331187, accessed February 11, 2019.
- Lowe, J. John 1995The Late Glacial in North-West Europe: Human Adaptation and Environmental Change at The End of The Pleistocene. N. Barton, A. J. Roberts And D. A. Roe. Publisher Council for British Archaeology (CBA Research Report No. 77), London 1991 (279 Pp) F£32.00 ISBN 1 872414 15 X. Journal of Quaternary Science 10(2). Wiley: 193-194.
- Return to Star Carr: Discovering the True Size of a Mesolithic Settlement – Current Archaeology 2019Current Archaeology. https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/return-to-star-carr-discovering-the-true-size-of-a-mesolithic-settlement.htm, accessed February 12, 2019.
- Santos-Fita, Didac et al. Symbolism and Ritual Practices Related to Hunting in Maya Communities from Central Quintana Roo, Mexico. Https://Ethnobiomed.Biomedcentral.Com/Articles/10.1186/S13002-015-0055-X. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0055-x, accessed February 11, 2019.
- Schuster, Ruth 2019Enigmatic Deer Skull Masks Made 11,000 Years Ago in Yorkshire Go on Display. Haaretz.Com. https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/MAGAZINE-deer-skull-masks-made-11-000-years-ago-in-yorkshire-go-on-display-1.6196803, accessed February 11, 2019.
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