By Stephen Harrison, BA, MPil Phd, Consultant Archaeologist
Bronze Age
Iron Age
Early Modern

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MESOLITHIC (C.8,300 - 4,000 BC)

Warmer temperatures an the appearance of a closed woodland, together with improved soil quality, is, conventionally, taken as marking the end of the Palaeolithic and the onset of the Mesolithic ("Middle Stone Age") period. Like all such period divisions in the past, this was not a single, clear-cut event, but, rather, a gradual, piecemeal, transition from one identifiable cultural formation to another.

A dramatically changed landscape meant that a new range of food resources became available. In order to fully exploit the opportunities afforded by the new environment, Mesolithic people developed a technologically sophisticated tool-kit. This enabled them to cope with hunting woodland animals, such as red and roe deer, wild boar, brown bears, and cattle, rather than those of the open tundra.

Temporary occupation sites, such as coastal settlements convenient for the exploitation of marine resources and upland hunting camps based on the exploitation of herds of animals grazing the less wooded or open high ground, can be recognised in the archaeological record. Sometimes, as at Star Carr, in the Vale of Pickering, campsites were strategically situated at the interface of two or more ecosystems, or "ecotones", in order to maximise their immediate resource base without the necessity of having to travel great distances.

Over time, the annual range of seasonal movement by Mesolithic communities decreased, and people became more (but not entirely) fixed to particular localities. This was all part of a gradual "settling down", a process which would not be finally completed until later prehistory (sometime after 1,400 BC). Until about 6,000 BC, Mesolithic people appear to have accepted their environment as they found it, content to harvest its resources, and adapting themselves to the challenges the wildscape offered. However, as communities came to rely on a smaller range of resources, and perhaps as population levels increased, attempts began to be made to modify or control the natural world.

In the Great Wold Valley, at Willow Garth, to the west of Boynton, pollen samples of Mesolithic date, taken from the vicinity of putative occupation sites, indicate that the forest cover in this area was being disturbed and altered by man, and that open grasslands were, perhaps, being promoted in order to create grazing zones in which animals would become concentrated, thus making hunting easier.

The need to effectively manipulate the environment was most probably triggered by a rise in sea-levels, between approximately 7,000-5,000 BC; Britain became finally separated from the European mainland by this event, at around 6,500 BC. As a consequence, communities across Britain became more insular, adopting a distinctive and narrow range of tool-types and a relatively restricted range of animal and plant resources. Groups that had formerly occupied areas now covered by the sea would have been forced into already settled zones, inevitably increasing pressures on the available natural resources.

By 4,000 BC, there was an extensive distribution of hunter-gatherer communities across many parts of the British Isles, dependent, to a large extent, on red deer, wild boar and auroclus (wild cattle); those groups with access to the coast would have supplemented their diet with marine resources. Some small-scale, temporary, clearances in the post-glacial climax forest certainly existed, but the country as a whole was still heavily wooded.

A large number of Mesolithic sites and artefacts, particularly from the later part of the period, are known from East Yorkshire. This material is not distributed evenly across the landscape, but is concentrated in certain well-defined areas: the lowlands of central and northern Holderness (particularly around Brandesburton, Ulrome and Skipsea) and the eastern part of the Vale of Pickering (especially in the areas around Flixton and Star Carr) are of outstanding importance in any understanding of the Mesolithic in East Yorkshire.

Whilst some sites are known on the chalklands of the Yorkshire Wolds, at Craike Hill (Eastburn Warren), Garton Slack, Huggate Dykes, Huggate Wold, and Octon Wold, they are few and far between.

Pathaeolithic c.250,000 - 8,300 BC
Mesolithic c.8,300 - 4,000 BC
Neolithic c.4,000 - 2,000 BC
Bronze Agec.2,000 - 800 BC
Iron Agec.800 BC - AD 71
Romano-British c.AD 71 - 410
Anglo-Saxon and Vikingc.AD 410 - 1066
Medieval c.AD 1066 - 1540
Early Modernc.1600 -1800
Modern c.1800 to the present day

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