Star Carr (UK) - Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherer Settlement in Yorkshire

The Oldest House in the United Kingdom, 9000 BC

Bone Tools from Star Carr
Bone Tools from Star Carr. Jim McDougall

Star Carr is one of the best known archaeological sites in England, dated to the early Mesolithic period and occupied intermittently for between 200-300 years, beginning ~10,700 years ago. The site lies within the Vale of Pickering in eastern Yorkshire in what was at the time a swampland fringing a lake. Star Carr was an engineering marvel for its hunter-gatherer inhabitants, the settlement including at least one house and a wooden platform built along the lake edge.

Artifacts recovered at Star Carr included over 200 barbed spearpoints, elk antler mattocks, bone scrapers, and masks or headdresses made from red deer antlers. Animals represented in the faunal collections included red deer, roe deer, domestic dogs, wild oxen, elk, wild pig, and waterfowl, but a curious lack of fish or molluscan remains, given its location. Seasonality studies of the deer bone (Carter 1998) suggest that people lived at Star Carr off and on in the late spring/summer, and more substantially during the winters.

The Oldest House in Britain

Excavations conducted by the universities of York, Manchester, University College of London and Cambridge and led by Nicky Milner and Chantal Conneller identified evidence of permanent residence at Star Carr in the later occupation, dated to roughly 9,000 calendar years BC (cal BC). These excavations found that Star Carr covered nearly 2 hectares (5 acres) of land, including a platform composed of worked timbers for a stretch of at least 30 meters (100 feet) of lakeshore.

Most most astonishingly, Star Carr had at least one post-built house, representing the oldest house found in the UK to date.

The house remains consisted of a shallow depression, 3 m (10 ft) in diameter and around 20 centimeters (8 inches) deep. At least 18 posthole features (the archaeological remains of set wooden posts) in a curvilinear pattern surrounded the pit, and a possible hearth was identified nearby.

The house may have had a reed floor. High densities of stone tools such as scrapers and burins, and two stone axes were found near or in the house pit.

The existence of a wetland platform at Star Carr was first recognized by Clark about 1950, and the extent and construction method was discovered in increments, beginning with Taylor, who identified tool marks on the wooden timbers. It was the most recent investigations by Conneller et al., which excavated a 30 meter length of prepared wetland platform projected onto the edge of a lake.

Preservation and Ecology at Star Carr

Stable isotope analysis of the dog bone recovered from Star Carr were used to identifiy a marine diet of the dogs and by extension the humans. That led to a fairly brisk debate in the literature, about how much detailed information you can interpret from marine isotope analysis. Whether the residents of Star Carr did in fact take advantage of the fish in the region is still under debate.

When Star Carr was first excavated, excavators remarked on the stunning level of preservation of organic materials. However, alarming results from recent tests have shown that the surrounding peat, which had a historic pH of nearly neutral, has become highly acidic, a result of dewatering and deep plowing.

Geochemical analysis reported in 2011 (Boreham et al) determined that most of the organic horizons have suffered almost complete chemical oxidation, and the unexcavated parts of the site are among those impacted the most severely.

Archaeology at Star Carr

Star Carr was first excavated between 1949-1951 by Grahame Clark; Clark's book of the site, Excavations at Star Carr, is considered a classic archaeological text. The original decades of investigation at Star Carr were focused on the remarkable faunal preservation at the site, and what the range of animals were available to hunter-gatherers living there. Additional stable isotope analysis of the faunal remains suggested some interesting patterns of use (or not) of the lake resources.

Paul Mellars at Cambridge University conducted work at Star Carr in the 1990s, focused on gaining a wider perspective of the settlement of the Malton valley, including sites such as Seamer Carr and Flixton 1.

Most recent work is a joint efforts led by Conneller and Milner (2007-2008); but it has been estimated that not more than 20% of the site has been excavated.


Star Carr's glossary entry is part of the Guide to European Mesolithic and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

See the official Star Carr website at York University for more information.

Boreham S, Conneller C, Milner N, Taylor B, Needham A, Boreham J, and Rolfe CJ. 2011. Geochemical indicators of preservation status and site deterioration at Star Carr. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10):2833-2857.

Brown T, Bradley C, Grapes T, and Boomer I. 2011. Hydrological Assessment of Star Carr and the Hertford Catchment, Yorkshire, UK. Journal of Wetland Archaeology 11(1):36-55.

Carter RJ. 1998. Reassessment of Seasonality at the Early Mesolithic Site of Star Carr, Yorkshire Based on Radiographs of Mandibular Tooth Development in Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). Journal of Archaeological Science 25(9):851-856.

Clark JGD. 1954. Excavations at Star Carr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Conneller C, Milner N, Taylor B, and Taylor M. 2012. Substantial settlement in the European Early Mesolithic: new research at Star Carr. Antiquity 86(334):1004-1020.

Dark P. 2003. Dogs, a crane (not duck) and diet at Star Carr: a response to Schulting and Richards. Journal of Archaeological Science 30:1353–1356.

Dark P. 2000. Revised ‘absolute’ dating of the early Mesolithic site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire, in the light of changes in the early Holocene tree-ring chronology. Antiquity 74(284):304-307.

Day SP. 1996. Dogs, Deer and Diet at Star Carr: a Reconsideration of C-isotope Evidence from Early Mesolithic Dog Remains from the Vale of Pickering, Yorkshire, England. Journal of Archaeological Science 23(5):783-787.

Donahue RE, and Lovis WA. 2006. Regional settlement systems in Mesolithic northern England: Scalar issues in mobility and territoriality. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 25:248–258.

High K, Milner N, Panter I, and Penkman KEH.

2015. Apatite for destruction: investigating bone degradation due to high acidity at Star Carr. Journal of Archaeological Science 59:159-168.

Mellars PA. 1990. A major 'plateau' in the radiocarbon time-scale at circa 9650 b.p.: The evidence from Star Carr (Yorkshire). Antiquity 64:836-841.

Milner N, Conneller C, Elliott B, Koon H, Panter I, Penkman K, Taylor B, and Taylor M. 2011. From riches to rags: organic deterioration at Star Carr. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10):2818-2832.

Wheeler A. 1978. Why Were There No Fish Remains at Star Carr? Journal of Archaeological Science 5:85-89.