Archaeologists in the United Kingdom have unearthed an 11,000-year-old shale pendant from an Early Mesolithic dig site in North Yorkshire known as Star Carr. The pendant features mysterious markings on its surface, and could very well be the earliest example of artwork in the country from that era.
The ancient item is made from single piece of shale that was shaped into a triangle. It measures about 31 millimeters (1.2 inches) long and 35 millimeters (1.4 inches) wide with a thickness of about three millimeters (0.1 inch).
According to the researchers from the Universities of Manchester, Chester and York who found the artifact, the engravings on the shale pendant may represent various items from the time, including a leaf, a tree or a map. The lines could also be some form of tally marks.
Pendants from the Mesolithic Period rarely had any engravings on them. There is also no other shale pendant ever to be found in Europe that featured markings on its surface.
Recovery Of The Shale Pendant
When the archaeological team came across the shale pendant in 2015, the engravings on its surface could hardly be seen. Members had to use various techniques in digital microscopy in order to produce high-quality images of the artifact that would allow them to identify the order and style of the artwork.
The team also conducted an analysis of the Mesolithic pendant to find out whether it had been strung or worn by people from the period, or whether it had been exposed to pigments to make the engravings more visible.
The researchers found the ancient item in deposits taken from what used to be a large lake that covered an area known as the Vale of Pickering during the Mesolithic Period. At first, they thought that the pendant was merely a natural stone because the engravings were covered in sediment.
While other artifacts have been uncovered in Star Carr before, such as a perforated amber piece, animal teeth and shale beads, the shale pendant is believed to be the first perforated item that had engravings to be found in the archaeological site.
"It was incredibly exciting to discover such a rare object," lead researcher Nicky Milner from the University of York said. "It is unlike anything we have found in Britain from this period."
The researchers believe that the shale pendant could have been owned by a shaman. Other items recovered from the area, such as red deer antler headdresses, are thought to be part of the attire of shamans of the period.
They have yet to determine what the markings on the pendant could mean, but similar engraved items that were unearthed in Denmark are taken as some sort of amulets meant to protect the spirit of their wearers.
High-quality images of the Mesolithic Period shale pendant will be put on a display at the Yorkshire Museum along with other artifacts recovered from the Star Carr dig site. These include flints, a barbed point that was used for fishing or hunting and well-preserved rolls of birch bark that served as early forms of fire lighters.
The findings of the multi-organizational study are featured in the journal Internet Archaeology.