An artist rendering of Star Carr; a mesolithic site in Northern England.

Currency in the Mesolithic

Caption of Featured Image: An artist’s reconstruction of life at Star Carr, where recent excavations have uncovered evidence of a thriving Mesolithic settlement. [Credit: Dominic Andrews]

Introduction

Ah, the Mesolithic. As I’ve mentioned before, I studied the mesolithic time period for my masters degree at the University of York. I was able to work with many of the experts of the Mesolithic in Britain, specifically regions like Star Carr; which allowed me to work with skilled academics, like Nikki Milner.

The Mesolithic was a time of great change.

Mesolithic – So hot right now.

The last ice age was coming to a close, and temperatures were starting to increase. This presented the peoples of the time a few different problems and some new opportunities. One of the largest issues that this caused, was areas that were once land; were now being flooded by melting ice.

These land bridges would end up cutting off peoples from the lands they once hunted and gathered in. An example of land bridges include, the one that existed between Russia and Alaska; and theland bridge that existed between England and mainland Europe called Doggerland.

The modern map of Britain, a separate island from mainland Europe, with green shading to show a land mass that used to connect the two 16,000, 8,000 and 7,000 years ago, during the Mesolithic.
Map of Doggerland

As the temperatures  started to increase; we began settling down. This brought new challenges for the people. If they over-used resources; they would be forced to move and start anew. Unfortunately, this is something that we still deal with to this day. Humans tend to move into areas and believe that the resources will last forever. After we stay in a region for an extended time period, using everything from the land, then wonder why there is no food left for us. 

Time to form a trading post

One of the things that settling down did for us; it forced us to make trade routes to acquire the resources that we may have once been used to getting. During the Early Mesolithic, we see this in sites from the south west of Germany. There has been found banded chert that was not from around the sites, but instead was from Bavaria, 200km away. There are also shells and fossils that where used for personal ornamentation that were from the northwest and the east of the sites, again from 200km away. Nevertheless, we can see from the similarities in the artifacts used there as some form of communication and an interaction between groups. 

Columbella rustica, from a mesolithic site in Spain.
Photo of Columbella rustica
As the Mesolithic went on, we start to see greater evidence of trade among groups. During the Late Mesolithic, there is more evidence of trade.

Examples include:

  • We find that material, Wommersum quartzite, originally from southern Belgium before the Late Mesolithic.
    • During the Late Mesolithic, the quartzite is found in an area of about 250km in diameter around the originating area.
  • In Southern France, a shell from its Mediterranean Sea coast called the Columbella rustica was used as a pendent before the Late Mesolithic.
    • However, during the Late Mesolithic, the shells are found all the way in the Rhone Valley going into Switzerland and all the way to Southern Germany. This is over 600km from its source of origin. 

Tiptoeing into the Early Neolithic

 There are also notable mentions of artifacts that were from Neolithic artifacts that are found in Late Mesolithic context. The Neolithic was not a universally adopted idea in all of Europe. While some peoples took to farming, others decided the way they were doing things was fine the was it was. And you can’t really blame them. With the advent of farming, came a lot more work and the need for larger populations to do the work. But even though some took to farming and others stayed with their simpler lifestyles, there was still trade among the groups.

Polished stone axe with shaft from Sigerslev Bog
Polished stone axe with shaft from Sigerslev Bog

In Denmark and southern Germany; we see this with artifacts that where produced by Neolithic peoples such as polished stone axes in Denmark. Then, in Southern Germany, we have found polished stone axes along with grinding stones. 

Conclusion

The trade between humans, focusing on two different lifestyles is something that is even present in the modern age. When new technology is invented, there are always those who will go to obtain it. There are always those that don’t see the purpose of these new technologies. An example would be when the electric lightbulb came into homes and some didn’t see the need or purpose when their candles did just fine.

In our next blog, we’ll get into the Neolithic. The Neolithic is when food truly starts to become more prevalent. As we start to farm, it incentives people to come together from large areas. Bringing not only their knowledge, but their resources, as well. 

Bibliography

https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-neolithic-period/polished-axes-of-flint/the-polished-axes/

Jochim, M., 2013. European prehistory. 2nd ed. Buffalo: Springer, p.134-135.

Jochim, M., 2013. European prehistory. 2nd ed. Buffalo: Springer, p.143-144.

Milner, N., 2013. Star carr. S.L.: Council For British Archaeology, p.17.

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-sample-of-modern-Columbella-rustica-on-which-different-perforation-techniques-have_fig1_344899316

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/tiny-islands-survived-tsunami-almost-separated-britain-europe-study-finds-180976430/

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