Archaeologist takes audience back in time

Words and photo by Dave Barry 

The fascinating ancient history of Star Carr and its excavations was the subject of an engrossing talk at Scarborough Library.

Star Carr, near Staxton, is one of the most famous Mesolithic - Middle Stone Age - sites in the archaeological world.

It was discovered in the late 1940s by John Moore, a founder member of Scarborough Archaeological & Historical Society, which organised the talk.

The site was excavated by Grahame Clark of Cambridge University from 1949-1951.

Rare, organic artefacts were discovered in the peat which had formed on the edge of an ancient lake. The discoveries became known around the world.

From 2004-2015, Professor Nicky Milner of York University’s archaeology department and colleagues excavated at the site and made exciting new discoveries including the earliest house in Britain, large wooden platforms (the earliest known carpentry in Europe) and more rare artefacts such as antler head-dresses made from red-deer skulls.

Professor Milner, who gave the talk, presented a picture of how hunter-gatherers lived at the site 11,000 years ago and how they survived significant climate change.

She grew up near Hunmanby, a few miles from the site, and started excavating at West Heslerton with Dominic Powlesland in the early 1990s, while still at school.

She realised she wanted to be an archaeologist and studied at Nottingham University before going to Cambridge to do a PhD in Mesolithic shell midden sites, working on sites around the Atlantic coast of Europe.

While taking the PhD, Professor Milner began working with Tim Schadla-Hall on sites in the Vale of Pickering every summer.

She went to Newcastle University as a Sir James Knott research fellow and then a lecturer, co-directing a dig at the Mesolithic site of Howick in Northumberland with Clive Waddington.

She went to York University in 2004. Besides Star Carr, she has co-directed excavations at Flixton Island in the Vale of Pickering and in Ireland.

She has written about the Star Carr excavations in two books which are available in print but are free to read online at

The talk was attended by about 130 people.

Professor Nicky Milner is pictured at the library with Simon Temlett, who chairs Scarborough Archaeological & Historical Society.